The expectation was Jadon Sancho and the priority was thought to be a centre-back over the summer, but Manchester United may have pulled off their most important piece of transfer business with the signing of Alex Telles.
Brought in on deadline day from Porto, the three-capped Brazil international was acquired for around £15m to shore up a somewhat beleaguered backline and offer the sort of attacking potency emblematic of his fellow countrymen in the full-back area.
In need of squad surgery over the summer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted against strengthening the central defensive area, a problem position that has been a glaring weakness in his side for some time now, and instead bolstered his byline — and that may have inadvertently solved two key issues for the Norwegian.
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Telles made his Man Utd debut against PSG in the Champions League last week, and he flourished during his baptism of fire in the French capital. Deployed as a left-sided wing-back in an unorthodox three-man defence, Solskjaer rolled the dice with Harry Maguire absent, and his experimental XI proved a masterstroke.
Defensively, Man Utd were compact and resolute, making the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria look very ordinary indeed, while the visitors offered a much more menacing threat when surging forward themselves, with Telles at the heart of that attacking operation.
Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe and Luke Shaw combined to form a solid back-three (and were unfortunate not to keep a clean sheet), while Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka offered a competent blend of defensive support with attacking vitality.
Man Utd now face RB Leipzig in a fascinating first-ever contest between these two clubs on Wednesday night, and Solskjaer will be tempted to use a similar blueprint against another tricky Group H opponent in the Champions League, although Telles has been ruled out through injury.
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The three-man defence offers an under-pressure Maguire greater security at the back (with the system also familiar to him at international level with England), while Shaw would not be as exposed as he has often found himself in a back four.
Reverting back to the 3-4-1-2, used so effectively against PSG, would therefore offer a more comprehensive blend of defensive stability with a nod to attacking principles. With the Fred-Scott McTominay double-pivot anchoring the midfield and mopping up when out of possession, Telles and Wan-Bissaka will have greater license to operate more freely on the flanks, supporting Bruno Fernandes and creating overloads to link up with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
And this is where Telles truly excels. His attacking metrics at Porto are well-documented (11 goals and eight assists in the Primeira Liga last season), so Solskjaer’s 3-4-1-2 could now prove his optimal formation for getting the best out of the players at his disposal and solving the defensive issue.
Early Fernandes-Cavani link offers Man Utd fans glimpse of attacking potential
Within seconds of his introduction against Chelsea, Edinson Cavani nearly opened his Man Utd account in emphatic fashion, flicking on a delectable Fernandes cross which nearly caught Edouard Mendy unawares, only for his instinctive poke to glance agonisingly wide.
In that brief snapshot, Man Utd fans were offered a glimpse of the potential link-up between Fernandes and one of Europe’s most clinical finishers. Cavani may be 33, but his movement and innate understanding of where the goal was in that moment showcased the world-class qualities he can offer.
He is likely to feature for the first time in Europe for Man Utd later this week, and his experience may be needed against the young but formidable exploits of Dayot Upamecano and Co. Julian Nagelsmann’s side are first in the Bundesliga and have conceded just three goals this season, but the prospect of Cavani, Fernandes and Telles all sharing a pitch together should have Man Utd fans purring at the attacking possibilities.