Though Manchester United’s full-backs do have quality, particularly summer signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the Reds are being let down by their players in that position this season.
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United are to finish in the top four this season, they must get more out of the two players, whoever they may be, occupying the wide defensive positions.
No, Wan-Bissaka should not be compared to Liverpool’s attacking sensation Trent Alexander-Arnold. Nevertheless, it’s right to question whether United could benefit from a larger attacking output from their ‘defensive’ players.
United full-backs offering little in attack
Most fans and pundits are all too aware of the rise in the importance of an attacking full-back. Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw and others should be compared to other Premier League full-backs in this regard.
Wan-Bissaka, for example, has played just 0.5 key passes per game in the league this season. This is dwarfed by the figures of Lucas Digne’s 2.5, Ben Chilwell’s 1.6 or even Marcos Alonso’s 1.0.
The latter, in particular, is not renowned for his attacking quality. As for Luke Shaw, he’s contributed 0.8 key passes per match, as per WhoScored.
These figures are not the be-all and end-all, but what is obvious with or without them is that United’s full-backs are giving little in attack.
Now for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, that is somewhat acceptable. At least for now. His defensive contributions have been so important, as seen at the Etihad in United’s 2-1 win against City, that his lack of attacking output can be forgiven.
For Luke Shaw, it’s a different conclusion. His lapses in concentration in the first half against Everton allowed the Toffees to score first, and they weren’t unique to that game either.
Unlike Wan-Bissaka, Shaw’s defensive contribution hasn’t been so enormous that he doesn’t need to offer something in attack, rather its the opposite.
Brandon Williams has shown confidence going forward
Young Brandon Williams does indeed offer a bit more going forward. He’s direct, very confident and aggressive in his play. For a start, United must bring him back into the side ahead of Shaw. But simultaneously, the coaches at United have a responsibility to help these players, Shaw included, become better in attack.
This is so important for United. They are a team at risk of becoming a one-dimensional counter-attacking unit reliant on the speed and individual brilliance of Marcus Rashford, Dan James and Anthony Martial, or even Mason Greenwood.
In the recent past, they’ve been reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba. Without Pogba, who offers double the number of key passes per game that any player who started against Everton does, United need more than just their midfielders to create. Fred, McTominay and Pereira cannot do it.
Coaches must make full-back improvement a priority
The coaches have to help. It’s the small improvements like these that could help United achieve a top-four spot.
That’s something that looked nigh on impossible just a couple of months ago. If it means getting a new coach in, then so be it.
United should be desperate for their full-backs to become a key part of their attacking game. Then when sides sit deep, perhaps they won’t struggle quite so much.
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