Why this £45 million signing is Solskjaer’s biggest tactical problem


Although, Manchester United won 3-0 against a dire Spurs side, they are side still in crisis. The change of system against Spurs helped them plug holes in their defence but much can’t written on the impact of the new system because Spurs were diabolical in their attacking play. Against Liverpool, United were picked apart defensively by the attacking prowess of their opponent in front of their disbelieving fans. And one key problem in their system is their first choice right back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Poor in the attacking third

It’s not a well kept secret that Aaron Wan-Bissaka (AWB) has never been great in the attacking third but what’s worrying is he shows little lack of improvement despite many in the United fanbase suggesting he will. He averages 3.63 progressive passes per 90 which is very poor for a team like United that has aspirations to win the title. To put that into perspective, other top full backs like Trent averages around 8.55 progressive passes per 90 while Cancelo averages around 6.61 progressive passes per 90. AWB is a slightly better ball carrier as he averages around 5.74 progressive carries per 90 but his dribbling abilities clearly aren’t penetrative enough as he averages a dismal 0.08 shot creating actions per 90 via his dribbles. This shows that Wan-Bissaka’s ball carrying doesn’t actually result in an end product. AWB’s 0.08 expected assists per 90 over the course of the last 365 days further reinforces how poor he is in the attacking third. 

Wan-Bissaka’s poor attacking output becomes a bigger problem for Solskjaer if he choses to continue the back 3/5 formation he opted for against Spurs. Against better sides, this system requires the wingbacks to provide the attacking width and take part in attacking moves. Even against Spurs, there were occasions where United’s attacks faltered because of AWB’s poor decision making in the final third.

Unintelligent pressing

The great Johan Cruyff once said: ‘Football is played with your head, your feet are just tools to help you’ and nothing enhances this statement more than Aaron Wan Bissaka’s poor pressing methods. AWB has a tendency to aggressively move forward during Utd’s pressing phase in order to aid the forwards. This is even more important due to the arrival of Ronaldo as he is historically a very lazy ball presser. However, AWB moving forward to press leaves a gaping hole at RB which Lindelof/Varane tend to cover, which then subsequently forces Maguire and Shaw to shift over (to cover the gaping holes in the defensive line). This leaves United vulnerable on the left hand side which can be exploited via a quick switch. This is exactly how Liverpool operated versus United, the diagram below highlights that. 

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AWB leaves his defensive line to press, which forces Maguire and Lindelof over to cover the space left behind. A switch to Utd’s left hand side is on as soon as Shaw comes over to cover the space. Trent receives the ball with plenty of time on the right and the lack of tracking back by the United forwards enables him to play in an easy cross which results in the second goal. This is all due to AWB’s foolish pressing. In my opinion, this needs to be addressed by Utd’s coaching staff to ensure it doesn’t happen again. United don’t have the hardworking and intelligent forwards to play a high pressing game so sitting in a mid block would be the most ideal for this current United team. Moreover, they can switch to a back 3 system where the increase in personnel defensively could benefit their pressing game. This ensures that Utd don’t leave dangerous spaces behind due to their ineffective and uncooperative pressing. 

Back post problems

Wan-Bissaka isn’t a very good player aerially, he loses around 1.04 aerial duels per 90 and only wins about half of his aerial duels which is very poor for a defensive player never mind one that is playing for Man Utd. Wan Bissaka also consistently loses his man at the back post which allows the opposition to score from that side via a header (as AWB isn’t very good at those) or via a simple tap in. 

The following pictures are taken from Man Utd’s game at home to Brighton in Sept 2020.

The Brighton player sends in a dangerous cross to the back post, Bruno Fernandes and Wan-Bissaka both fail to pick up the player arriving on the back post which then results in a goal.

The back post mishap is further aided by Lindelof’s poor aerial ability and his lack of defensive awareness to cover for AWB’s mistakes. However, the arrival of Varane from Real Madrid should massively help in a bid to solve this conundrum as he is an excellent defender and has the aerial ability as well as the defensive awareness to cover for Wan-Bissaka’s mistakes. This however doesn’t completely fix United’s back post problems and changes have to be made to completely eradicate this obstacle, whether that be signing a new world class right back or coaching AWB to improve this aspect of his game.

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The alternatives

So if Wan-Bissaka isn’t good enough then who do United sign to play there? In my opinion, United need an able competitor for Wan-Bissaka as Diogo Dalot is nowhere near good enough to play for Man Utd at this current moment. 

One such player they could look at is one of their own in the form of Ethan Laird. Ethan Laird is a 20 year old Man Utd academy graduate who is currently on loan at Swansea City. He’s been one of the best young players in the championship this season and many Swans fans are delighted by his excellent form so far this season. He’s a brilliant ball carrier and averages around 2.1 dribbles per 90, he also averages around 1.5 key passes per 90 which suggests he is a very good penetrative passer. He is not as refined as Wan Bissaka defensively but he’s young and has plenty of time to improve over the course of his career. One negative about him however is that he doesn’t always pass the ball at the right moments and instead looks to dribble with it instead. This results in him losing the ball around 1.7 times per 90 which is a cause for concern. Nevertheless, if he can hone his defensive skills and decision making then he is more than enough to be a capable competitor for Wan-Bissaka for that right back spot in the near future. However, if United are looking for a more experienced head to slot in at right back then they need to look no further than Giovanni Di Lorenzo. The Euro 2020 winner is excellent defensively and is even better on the attacking third of the pitch. He averages around 2.47 shot creating actions per 90 which is aided by his brilliant ball carrying and progressive passing abilities. Very few full backs in the world can top his 6.04 progressive passes per 90 and this allows any team that possesses him to have a dangerous arsenal on their right hand side. The fact that he averages around 0.12 assists per 90 further reinforces how great he is in the attacking third. In my opinion, Di Lorenzo would be a worthy competitor for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and would certainly improve this Man Utd side. He’s a more polished player than Ethan Laird currently is and will allow Man Utd an immediate fix to their right back problems.

One Response

  1. I have a problem with wing backs, they are positioned on the field as the last line of defence so how can a wing back receive a corner in the offensive half and expect to get back to defend a quick breakaway? They are bound to be left trailing unless they are Usain Bolt. Can anyone explain why the modern systems are better than the old, Goalkeeper, Right Back, Left Back, defenders. Right Half, Centre Half, Left Half as both link up players and defenders and a five man attack of Right Wing, Inside Right, Centre Forward, Inside Left and Right Wing. Every one of them a specialist and strong in their positions. Everyone providing the quality to both defend and provide attacks. So why do we have styles like 4 2 4, 4 3 2 1 and any other number of set ups with players being used out of position just to support a stupid set up. The modern game is confusing and dysfunctional. I would like to have it explained why the modern game is better that the old style setting and I would like to see it used against a modern system except for the fact that there are no specialists anymore to provide style of play.

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