Manchester United’s summer is underway. Tom Heaton is done and dusted. Sources have told The Busby Babe that Manchester United are simply dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on Jadon Sancho. United’s next move in the transfer market should be something along the lines of a defensive midfielder.
Not to say that United aren’t working on that at the moment (clubs don’t like to keep the media informed of everything they’re doing) but everything that we’re hearing has to do with a potential right back.
Former Spurs and current Atletico Madrid right back Kieran Trippier seems to be the top one on the list. United have been linked with him since January in one of those pesky rumors that doesn’t make much sense but doesn’t go away, which begs the question, why? Why are United shopping for a right back, what exactly are they looking for in the position, and do they already have that in their squad?
Let’s take a look, starting with what United currently have.
Simply put, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is Manchester United’s first choice right back and they aren’t looking to change that. They’re also not looking for someone who can become a rotational option based on who they’re playing. They’re looking for a backup.
Wan-Bissaka was bought for £50 million two seasons ago as a raw 21 year old who was a defensive superstar but needed to develop the attacking part of his game. No one at United thought they were getting the complete package, they always knew they would have to be patient as he developed the attacking parts of his game.
The narrative on Wan-Bissaka has always been that he’s great defensively but terrible in attack. That’s not quite true. Wan-Bissaka is poor in build up play, but once he’s in the final third he’s been quite good, especially this season.
The narrative comes from his first touch being the opposite of smooth making him always look lanky and awkward on the ball. Add in the fact that non-United fans needed to make fun of United spending £50m on a full back who ‘can’t do it all,’ and boom, you’ve got a good narrative there.
Wan-Bissaka’s progression for United has been nice and steady. Production wise he’s been pretty decent. His four Premier League assists this season were the third most among right backs (higher than the superb attacking right back Reece James). This was his second straight season with four assists, which the most United have gotten from a right back since Gary Neville had four in 2003. That’s not too bad for someone who can’t attack.
His underlying numbers aren’t as good and he needs to keep working on adding those elements to his game, but comparing his numbers from the latter half of the campaign to the first shows obvious improvements in that regard.
Like many others, who he plays with influences him as well. When United ask him to do more of the progression during buildup he struggles. It’s noticeable that when Paul Pogba plays as left wing, United take the buildup away from the right side, working the ball back to Wan-Bissaka once in the final third allowing him to get favorable matchups and increase his creativity.
United would certainly like Wan-Bissaka to contribute more to their attack but that’s not why they’re in the market for a right back. United are in the market for a right back because Aaron Wan-Bissaka started 54 games last year, a simply astonishing number.
Wan-Bissaka is an integral part of United’s defense. He shuts down the opponents left flank on his own, which means United don’t need to give him midfield help, and Wan-Bissaka can come narrower to help out Victor Lindelof - which in turn allows Lindelof to offer more protection for Maguire if he’s beat for pace.
There’s no like for like sub for Wan-Bissaka. No one else can offer what he does defensively and if you take him out the entire dynamic of the defense - and ultimately the team - changes.
Unfortunately, short of cloning him, United need to find some way to not have Wan-Bissaka playing 54 matches a year.
The academy product broke through as a left back last season making 41 appearances in all competitions and was slated to be backup at right back this season. I guess he technically was? However it quickly became obvious that either Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost faith in Williams, Williams didn’t improve the way United were hoping he would, or both things occurred this season.
It probably wasn’t a good sign when Timothy Fosu-Mensah started the opening game opening game of the season over Williams but things never got better for Brandon. For all we know, Williams might offer more going forward than Wan-Bissaka but when it comes to defenders - especially at right back considering how much of the defense is built around the position - defensive ability is what Solskjaer cares about the most.
Williams would often get sucked in too narrow - which Wan-Bissaka does as well - the difference being even if he gets sucked in narrow Wan-Bissaka can still get out to the flank where he won’t get beat. Williams very much can get beat there.
It was telling that Williams wasn’t trusted to start any of the FA Cup matches against Premier League opposition. The writing was especially on the wall when Wan-Bissaka desperately needed a rest but was still selected to start Europa League second leg matches against Real Sociedad, Grenada, and AS Roma with United holding leads of 4-0, 2-0, and 6-2.
It should come as no surprise that Williams is seeking a loan move this summer. He’s not going to get any better at United and he’s probably never going to turn into the quality they need even from a squad player.
Dalot’s United career got off to a great start as he looked like a real player who could attack down that right flank when he first arrived. In hindsight, that probably had more to do with the fact that he wasn’t Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young and United fans were just desperate to see any kind of attacking threat
One thing that never was a mirage was Dalot’s defensive ability. He never had any. Therefore it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Dalot make only 11 appearances for United last year. The writing was on the wall for Dalot when United only took two left backs (Shaw and Williams) in their travelling squad to their Europa League tie with LASK.
In September, The Athletic reported that Dalot wasn’t in Solskjaer’s plans, citing that Solskjaer wanted his fullbacks ‘aggressive in the tackle and assertive on the ball’ and Dalot was curious in both aspects.
Dalot was decent for AC Milan this season but was used primarily in the Europa Leauge (IE a rotational option). The Serie A club has expressed interest in bringing him to the San Siro permanently but Monday morning the Manchester Evening News reported that Dalot has been told to report to United for the start of preseason.
It’s hard to see Dalot having a future at Old Trafford but this move makes a lot of sense. United will look to send Williams out on loan and thus they’d like to evaluate the Portuguese after a season of consistent playing time. If he wins over the coaching staff and shows improvement in the areas they felt he lacked and they feel he can contribute this season he’ll stay. If not, after evaluating him up close they’ll try to move him on whether it be to AC Milan or elsewhere.
I’d bet on the latter happening.
The highly touted academy prospect had a very successful loan spell at MK Dons last season and though many fans want to see him get a chance to earn his place at Old Trafford next season, he’s likely to go out on loan again.
With United looking to push past the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and mount a more serious title challenge next season they simply can’t take a gamble on Laird. Laird certainly might be good enough to be United’s backup right back but, what if he’s not? That could be really problematic for United if something were to happen to Wan-Bissaka.
The truth is United aren’t in a position where they can carry Laird this season. He needs to play football and there just aren’t enough games for him. Brandon Williams had the benefit of getting to play in Europa League matches but the Champions League is a different monster.
A club in United’s position can’t bet on an academy kid to just all of a sudden be ready. Remember, most academy kids don’t make and the ones that do are either squad players or go elsewhere. It’s only one or two every few years that end up being first choice players. For a club like United, the onus is on the player to show that they need to be in the XI rather than the club to give them chance after chance.
Don’t worry about a new fullback blocking Laird’s path. If Laird goes on loan and comes back better than the guys United currently have, he’ll play.
This brings us to the man United have been linked to for months, Kieran Trippier. We all know the profile of Trips. He’s very good going forward, a bit weaker defensively, and can whip in a delicious cross.
Trips checks a lot of boxes for United. He provides them something more in attack, he’s got experience playing in the Champions League, and the fact that he’s a boyhood United fan lends credence to the belief that he’d accept a bench role.
United’s interest in Trippier has reportedly cooled over the weekend when Atletico Madrid slapped a £35 million price tag on the right back. United had reportedly made a £10 million bid for Trippier that was rejected.
Those numbers confirm exactly what United are looking for. They’re really just trying to limit how often Wan-Bissaka has to play twice a week - essentially a right sided Alex Telles. Someone that could come in play in the cups, two or three group stage matches in the Champions League, and probably make four or five starts in the Premier League.
They’d probably like him to be a bit better than Telles but that’s the price range they’re looking at. Telles only started eight Premier League matches last season and two of them came in the final week when United had the ridiculous fixture congestion. Once Luke Shaw returned from injury Telles only started midweek matches and also wasn’t trusted to start the second leg against Roma with a 6-2 lead.
Remember, United spent weeks haggling with Porto over £5 million in Telles fee. They know what they’re getting and they’re not going to pay big money for a player who will sit on the bench.
Yes, Trips can whip a nice cross in but Wan-Bissaka completed a higher percentage of crosses than Trippier both last season and this season. When you factor in how much Wan-Bissaka crossing percent goes up or down depending on who’s playing on the left wing for United it may not be the man making the crosses that’s the problem in that regard.
Tripper would be a nice addition to United, but if he’s going to cost more than Alex Telles, it doesn’t seem like United are interested.
Aaron’s name hasn’t been mentioned too much recently but his name always gets thrown around there. He was a very exciting 19 year old with Norwich City in 2019-20 campaign and once again played a large part in helping the Canaries climb back to the Premier League.
Norwich would obviously demand a hefty fee for the 20 year old and I don’t see United paying that. I also wouldn’t see the player wanting to come to United because he’s simply just not going to play much.
If United are going to sign a backup right back, they’re going to want someone with experience, someone they could trust to come in and play in the group stages of the Champions League. That’s not Aarons.