The summer of transformation at Old Trafford saw a lot of excitement over the arrival of Harry Maguire from Leicester City. The world record amount for a defender was undoubtedly a headline-making move, and while the signing has undoubtedly increased the options available to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the centre of his defence. However, it could be argued that the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the biggest over the summer months.
The right-back position has been a problem area for United since the retirement of Gary Neville in 2011. During that time the Red Devils were consistently among the favourites to win the league.
There have been a variety of players tested in the position, with the notable names including Rafael Da Silva, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot. But, aside from one season with Rafael, the club have suffered from an unbalanced defence for the last eight years.
This has created problems for United going forward, with the left-hand side consistently the preferred avenue to start attacks. This meaning the days of the Neville and David Beckham interchange was well and truly in the rear mirror.
The signing was vital for United to start again. The modern full-back position is essential, with Pep Guardiola spending the best part of £150 million in bringing in four full-backs since he arrived at Manchester City.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s foundation for their Champions League success last season was built on the strengths of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. United have failed to move with the times on an array of factors, and the development of the importance of full-backs is one of them.
Comparison to Other Right-Backs
Of course, we live in a day and age when everyone must compare players to others in their position. There is no better defensive right-back in the league than the United man. The stats back that up.
The defensive stats that Wan-Bissaka boasted last season were superb. He was part of a Palace defence that kept the same number of clean sheets as Alexander-Arnold with Liverpool.
Which puts into perspective that the Reds were chasing the title and the Eagles were battling against relegation; it is an unbelievable stat. Not only that, but the United man made more clearances, more blocks and had a higher tackle success rate.
The 129 tackles that he made last season was more than Alexander-Arnold, and Kyle Walker combined.
His one vs one ability is something that no other defender can claim they are better at. Wilfried Zaha constantly referred to the difficulty he had in beating Wan-Bissaka in training and that he wasn’t looking forward to coming up against him in a competitive game.
That is striking praise from a winger that has very few concerns in beating defenders. Also, Wan-Bissaka’s pace through the wing is something that could rival a horse in the Breeders Cup classic.
Areas for Improvement
As we’ve mentioned throughout, the modern era of full-back is expected to be as good in the attacking third as they are in the defensive areas, and this would undoubtedly be an area where Wan-Bissaka will be keen to improve on.
His numbers were way below that of Alexander-Arnold last season, especially in the assists. The Liverpool man recorded 12, while Wan-Bissaka recorded just the three; which incidentally is still two more than Walker. His crossing accuracy wasn’t as accurate as the Red’s man as Wan-Bissaka had a 21% success rate compared to Alexander-Arnold’s 29%.
Still, these are factors that given time and practise with better players will increase the more he plays and gets used to his new teammates. The fact that Wan-Bissaka was a winger during his early career at Selhurst Park shows that he does have that ability, and a first goal in the top-flight would seem certain to open the floodgates for more during his time at Old Trafford.
There is a sense that this season could be the one that makes the young right-back a household name, and Gareth Southgate has already noticed his time at Old Trafford as he was called up to the England senior team for the first time in August.
It could be argued that for international football, Wan-Bissaka should be the preferred option for Southgate due to his superior defensive abilities, even though he couldn’t make his England debut this month due to an injury. Head coach would definitely take the defender in his plans for English team in 2022 FIFA world cup. Regardless, for United, he will be number one for the coming seasons, and this will just be the first of a very successful and long career at Old Trafford.