After weeks of back-and-forth with Crystal Palace, Manchester United finally got their man. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, one of the best young defenders in the Premier League, signed on to the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer project for an initial £45 million fee, plus add-ons that could push the total package up to £50 million. That sum makes Wan-Bissaka the most expensive defensive transfer in club history, but still seems a tidy bit of business by Ed Woodward and company. Let’s take a closer look at the newest Red.
Baptism by fire
The converted winger, who dropped jaws in training with his impressive play while filling in at right back, fought his way up the pecking order under Roy Hodgson at Palace. His reward? Facing Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sánchez, and Eden Hazard in his first three Premier League starts. Palace lost all three matches, but Wan-Bissaka looked anything but an unnatural defender fresh out of the academy. He kept each big-name opponent relatively quiet, launching his own star in the process.
His consistent excellence over the last sixteen months belies the fact that AWB has made only 46 senior appearances. Shortly before his debut against Tottenham Hotspur, Wan-Bissaka pushed for a loan to League Two to gain experience. Hodgson blocked the move and encouraged the youngster to show his stuff in training and force his way into the starting eleven. When an injury crisis struck in February 2018, Wan-Bissaka got his chance — and never looked back.
For someone who started out as an attacker, Wan-Bissaka’s assuredness in defense beggars belief. The 21-year-old led all Premier League defenders in tackles, which is no mean feat for a fullback. Often isolated against a tricky winger, fullbacks can’t afford to miss whenever diving in for a tackle. He’s got to get the ball. Even more amazing, though, is that Wan-Bissaka wins more than 90% of his one-on-one duels.
In more than 3,000 Premier League minutes in 2018/19, only nine players dribbled the ball past AWB.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka made more tackles (129) than any other Premier League defender in 2018-19; only these nine players dribbled past him:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 26, 2019
Leroy Sané x 2
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson pic.twitter.com/jovyiVWbym
While his defensive positioning remains a work in progress, Wan-Bissaka came on in leaps and bounds in that area last season. He racked up 84 interceptions — again, the most by a Premier League defender — as he continually put himself into good spots to cut out attacks and deny final-third passes.
It’s not the biggest sample size in the world, but Wan-Bissaka’s defensive stats rank right up there with anyone’s. And, if there’s anything Manchester United desperately need right now, it’s a lockdown defender. If Wan-Bissaka keeps this level up (or even develops further), he’ll be considered world-class in no time.
Wan-Bissaka’s strengths might lean towards defense, but he’s no slouch going forward. He ranked second in successful dribbles by a Premier League defender last season, showing an intriguing fearlessness to take the ball right at the opposition. Wan-Bissaka is fast, fond of a lung-busting run down the flank, and comfortable in either a possession-based or counter attacking system.
Still, there’s definite room for improvement. He only tallied three assists and hit many more wayward crosses than accurate ones.
Happily, he’s making big strides in this area, too. This Total Football Analysis deep dive into AWB reveals a young player with strong attacking instincts and a decent bag of tricks for creating chances in the final third. Wan-Bissaka might always shine brighter in defense, but don’t rule out his attacking capabilities, either.
A quiet lad
“Unless you speak to him, he will not say a word,” Wilfried Zaha said of AWB. “Literally, he’s in the changing room quiet. But he does his speaking on the pitch, really. That’s why everyone likes him. He doesn’t chirp up much. He just comes in, does what he has to do, plays his game, and goes home.”
At a time when the club finds itself engulfed in off-pitch controversy like Paul Pogba’s search for a new challenge or Jesse Lingard’s Snapchat misadventures, Wan-Bissaka seems a simpler character who relishes hard work and keeps his head down off the field. He won’t be the fiery leader of the backline, but rather a reliable piece of the puzzle with top-drawer talent.
All signs this summer point to a desire to bring in young, hungry, and British players to lead this latest United rebuild. On that score — and so many more — Aaron Wan-Bissaka looks like a perfect fit.