Dan James’ Manchester United future is once again the topic of discussion in the media.
The Telegraph report long-time admirers Leeds United are showing interest again in the Welshman, having first begun pursuing him in late 2018.
James has had a difficult season so far, continuing where he left off post-lockdown in June.
He had a couple of early opportunities this season at United but did not seize them and has struggled to get any real game time lately.
The numbers tell their own story. James has started three Premier League games out of a possible 11, and has no goals and no assists in these matches. He has not been called on as a substitute once.
He did come off the bench to score against Istanbul Basaksehir, but prior to the goal he offered little. It is not a big surprise he has not been called on since, even though it seems a little harsh considering he scored, and was also coming off a long range strike on international duty for Wales.
Right now Manchester United cannot really make an informed decision whether to loan James for the second half of the season. There are several factors at play, which mean the club must wait until mid to late January before choosing.
Firstly, James is likely to get more opportunities over the next month.
He could even feature tonight at Sheffield United, or in the Carabao Cup quarter-final next week, any of the festive league fixtures, or the FA Cup game against Watford.
James could seize one of the chances he gets in these matches and re-ignite his United career.
There is a chance James could be utilised in a right wing-back role as cover for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
James’ speed and work rate could make him an ideal fit for this position. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer even previously described him as, ‘probably the best defensive winger in the world’, [ESPN].
United have been linked with a move for Kieran Trippier [SkySports]. If this happens then James won’t be required as cover.
But as the situation stands, the Welshman presents a useful back-up which may need to be trialled at some stage. Loaning him may deny him this opportunity.
Likewise, United have little cover in wide positions, especially if Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood get injured.
Can Pellistri step up?
James is currently the best positioned to provide first team cover on the wing, if required. He will soon have a new rival, Facundo Pellistri.
The young Uruguayan has scored three times in his last three under-23 games and may soon get a first team call.
If he can show over the next few weeks he can step up, then United have a ready made replacement on the wing for James at first team level, and it will be easier to sanction a loan.
The final under-23 game of the year takes place on Friday, and after this Pellistri should get brought in for first team consideration. How he fares in late December and early January will help dictate the Dan James’ decision.
Amad Diallo’s arrival
Pellistri is not the only winger set to be added into the Old Trafford mix.
Amad Diallo is awaiting his work permit to join from Atalanta in January.
This should be a formality, but the complexity of the case and Brexit may delay it slightly.
If he is judged to have the potential like Pellistri to push for a first team place in 2021 then it will become easier to loan James out.
The final factor in play here is what Dan James actually wants. It should not be assumed he wants to leave for first team football.
He may see the challenge coming from Pellistri and Diallo, and decide to fight for his place to try and hold them back from taking his place. If they succeed straight away, then no matter how well he does out on loan, he could return behind them in the pecking order.
James may also look at how open the league table is and see United have a chance to fight for the title. With that in mind, could leaving the club on loan become the worst decision of his career if United triumph in May without him?
Again, he will be able to take a clearer view on this in mid-January once the next run of fixtures are out of the way and the table begins to take shape, rather than right now. Current optimism on a title challenge could be very misplaced – but the point stands, what James wants, will have the biggest impact on the decision over his future.
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