For all of the talent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer possesses in the Manchester United attacking areas, he may have wished he still had Dan James to call upon.
During his two full seasons at Old Trafford, the Wales winger became one of Solskjaer’s trusted players in the big games.
Tasked with tracking back and following the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea’s marauding full-backs, James was willing to put a shift in for his team.
He may not have the same technical ability that the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho possess in the wide areas, but James outshines them all when it comes to work rate.
If James hadn’t moved to Leeds for £25m (BBC Sport), following the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, there could have been every chance he was lining up alongside United’s number seven, for the clashes against City and Liverpool.
United have a swashbuckling array of forward options, but none of them seem willing to sacrifice their own personal match-winning credentials, for the sake of the team becoming harder to break down and beat.
In 13 games for Manchester United against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, James won seven and lost on just three occasions.
In those 13 matches, the former Swansea City man scored one goal and made three assists.
In some of those matches, he was used as a second striker and it was his devastating pace on the counter attack which worried teams.
But he also pressed from the front and put in a dogged defensive performance, often helping out Luke Shaw or Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the wide areas.
United don’t necessarily miss his invention or creativity, but he was the type of team player that the current United side looks to be missing greatly.
Solskjaer could trust James to carry out a specific job and it’s those responsibilities that this current United side look incapable of carrying out.
But the 23-year-old was moved on from United and Edinson Cavani quickly took his number 21 shirt as Ronaldo returned.
James could never have stayed just to play a couple of games in the season, but his record against the top sides highlights the significant contribution he made when Solskjaer’s team were built to counter attack.
At present, we have no identity or style and Solskjaer is instead tasked with trying to fit as many big names into the team as possible.
Dan James is playing regularly under Marcelo Bielsa since moving to Elland Road, although, with typically low production on the pitch.
But in the recent chastening defeats to both Liverpool and Manchester City, the winger’s stock at the Theatre of Dreams has arguably enhanced, and it’s only now that we realise how important he was in the big games.
The £25 million fee was too good for United to turn down, that’s fairly inarguable, but his exit did remove a player who fitted Solskjaer’s system well.
Now despite the rich array of talent available to select, Solskjaer is struggling to find a player who fits his way of playing quite like James did.
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