These articles are dual-focused, analysing a player’s role at their club from a footballing perspective before considering whether that information translates into them being a viable consideration for our FPL teams. This instalment discusses Manchester United defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The last twelve months have represented a meteoric rise for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who had only made seven Crystal Palace appearances going into 2018/19. In such a short space of time, he has become one of the world’s most expensive defenders, joining one of the world’s biggest clubs and will potentially soon be part of one of the world’s most promising senior international setups.
If the 21 year-old can follow up an excellent first full season of Premier League football, he will become an instant favourite amongst the Old Trafford faithful. Manchester United’s defensive frailties were clear for all to see last season, conceding 54 times in 38 Premier League matches, one more than the club Wan-Bissaka has just departed and over double rivals Manchester City (23) and Liverpool (22).
Whilst that record will not change overnight, Wan-Bissaka’s ability to put an end to opposition attacks will do no harm. Along with Wilfried Ndidi, he was amongst the Premier League’s top three players for both interceptions and tackles, with 84 and 129 respectively. By comparison, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw topped those metrics amongst Manchester United players with 55 apiece.
That disparity does have to be taken with a pinch of salt, given that defenders in higher achieving sides are likely to be less active defensively. This is furthered by Roy Hodgson’s use of Wan-Bissaka as a more defensively-minded full-back, in order to provide balance to the very attack-minded Patrick Van Aanholt on the other side. In addition, Young and Shaw played over 500 fewer minutes than their fellow Englishman. Even so, the regularity of Wan Bissaka’s defensive contributions will be invaluable if United are to secure a Champions League spot next season.
With greater emphasis on defending for Wan-Bissaka in Roy Hodgson’s setup, his attacking output was naturally limited. A total of 30 touches in the box in 35 appearances resulted in just seven attempts on goal, with a further two outside the area. Meanwhile, his 14 chances created saw an average only 0.4 per game, although four of those were big chances and three resulted in an assist for the defender.
This suggests that when in an attacking position, he is capable of providing excellent deliveries for teammates, but that his defensive work was much more of a priority than marauding forward on every possible occasion. Therefore, given his age and the fact that Crystal Palace required him more defensively than offensively in comparison to Manchester United, there is certainly scope for improvement in that regard.
This leaves a degree of uncertainty surrounding what style of full-back Wan-Bissaka will be at Manchester United. He was excellent defensively for Crystal Palace in 2018/19, which if repeated, should significantly improve his new employer’s own defensive record. However, no player can be expected to do both sides of the game to perfection. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to give him more attacking responsibilities than Roy Hodgson did, reducing his ability to be as impactful in and around his own 18-yard box.
What is fairly certain is that Wan-Bissaka will assume a starting spot at right-back given the lack of competition. It also goes without saying that Manchester United will surely improve on a measly tally of seven clean sheets kept in 2018/19. But the extent to which that number increases depends upon David De Gea returning to top form, how Solskjaer decides to use Wan-Bissaka and the effect of any other potential defensive reinforcements.
With so many unknowns still at play, withholding judgement on Wan-Bissaka for the early part of the season looks to be the best strategy, until a pattern of underlying defensive and offensive numbers and ultimately clean sheets and direct goal involvements can be observed.