Rectifying Aaron Wan-Bissaka's attacking deficiencies
Background image: Xuanklpt
Superb aptly describes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's signings to date. Harry Maguire fits in with Victor Lindelof at the heart of the defence and warms to his new duties as captain. While Daniel James' early-season whirlwind performances settled into the doldrums of late, his work off the ball suggests he merely needs to refine his end-product to be more than a squad player. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is more than a squad player but his end product can use some tweaking as well.
While no one expects him to be another Bruno Fernandes, his work in the final third pales in comparison to his interventions at the far end. But there's hope. The right-back cum right-wing-back heavily influenced recent wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
Since arriving from Crystal Palace, AWB established himself as a defensive stalwart. The 22-year-old loves to tackle like a cat with a mouse. Just when a left-winger thinks he's passed, the nimble defender pounces. Wan-Bissaka tracks back, tackles, intercepts and works short passes, averaging a little less than six tackles and interceptions per 90 in the Premier League.
Still, United fans find themselves hoping for a little more Trent Alexander-Arnold when United put opponents on their heels. Modern full-backs attack too. Wan-Bissaka? Not so much. Whenever he receives the ball, he tends to make backward or lateral passes. Decent overlapping runs follow but his crossing abilities remain strictly trial and error with a success rate around 0.4 per 90.
Consequently, he can't expect to represent England in any significant manner at this summer's European Championship. His acquisition remains a major win for Ed Woodward and his team but to get to the top, Solskjaer needs a right-back with finely honed attacking instincts.
Totally different team with him & the equally impressive Maguire. Chelsea would definitely have taken some of their chances if Young and Smalling were there.
Before you go thinking this is about selling the player, less drastic solutions exist. First Ole can remain patient. At 22, Wan-Bissaka's crossing should improve with time, practice and constant encouragement. The former Crystal Palace defender came up through the academy as a winger. Likely, coaches moved him due to his erratic service but the assist to Anthony Martial against Chelsea was pinpoint perfection. If he can do it once, he can do it more often.
Solskjaer already tested the second solution. United's tactical shift to a three-man defence offers a compromise between winger and full-back. as a right wing-back. As a right-wing back, the youngster will make more runs but still be expected to support the defence. He'll slot into the backline when Brandon Williams or Luke Shaw push forward on the opposite side. The strategy worked well in recent matches although Solskjaer reverted to a four on the weekend at Goodison Park.
A positional shift should only be considered out of need or desperation. Asking a young player to learn a new position a second time probably tempts fate. In addition, where would Wan-Bissaka go? Lindelof and Maguire work well as a pairing with Eric Bailly, Shaw and Phil Jones deputising. Chris Smalling might return from his Roma holiday next season. Axel Tuanzebe trains again after sustaining a serious injury. Shaw and Williams don't need competition on the left side; they give each other more than enough. Wan-Bissaka could follow Joshua Kimmich's path, moving into the midfield like the Bayern star did this season. Unfortunately, the Red Devils are well-stocked in that department too. Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic all deserve to start on recent form. Paul Pogba hasn't left just yet, either.
The best option appears to be sticking with the three-man defence while AWB works on his service. United's rebuild phase is far from over. Wan-BIssaka deserves to play a vital role and should be given the time to round out his game.