Last season, the Manchester United dressing room faced a meltdown under Jose Mourinho. The game against Liverpool was followed by the sacking of the ‘Special One’. Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench to ensure that the Portuguese manager does not hold his fort any longer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was called upon to fix the mess in the second half of the season and the team witnessed a gradual improvement in its performance. As the season progressed further, and the fixture list got more challenging, the team inevitably experienced a dip in performance. The lack of an out and out right-winger had a part to play in this.
Initially, the likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial flourished under an attacking setup by Ole. However, that did not give the whole picture. Although the side scored over 25 goals under Solskjaer, a lack of attacking output from the right side had an effect on the attacking aspects of the team as a whole unit.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the team predominantly played with Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata as the wingers from the right. Much to everyone’s surprise, the latter did not operate as a traditional winger and instead, he preferred to move out of the right side and play through the middle – similar to the strikers of the team.
According to WhoScored, the team is more familiar with attacking from the left and through the middle, as opposed to playing out attacking from the right flank. 45% of the attacks flourished from the left onto the middle. A relatively smaller number of attacks were sparked from the right side – only 29%.
Jesse Lingard’s position as a right-winger is not entirely palpable. He does not have a strong output in the right flank and thus, cannot be considered as an out and out winger. Although his role is that of a winger, surprisingly, he likes to pass around and link up down the middle – rather than sprint with the ball and expose the spaces offered in the opposite flank.
Juan Mata is a very likable footballer and has done tremendously well in the Premier League. However, that does not mask the fact that he has some major drawbacks as a winger – for instance, his lack of physical presence allows him to get bullied off the ball too easily, and his lack of pace down the flank affects the flow of the attacks.
Daniel James was confirmed as United’s first signing this season and is sure to provide some width and pace in this side. However, one must keep in mind that he is a left-winger by trade and it would be unfair on the young Welshman if he is thrust into a right-wing position from the get-go. United still need an out and out right-winger to supplement the forward with crosses and cutbacks into the box.
To solve this issue, listed below are 3 right-wingers who I think are suitable for Manchester United’s style of play. The players listed are creative down the right flank and prefer sprinting with the ball down the wing – and not the middle. United should try and sign at least one of them.
The Brazilian has the skill set to match the criteria of a good right-winger. Malcom down the right flank has the ability to beat an opponent in a 1v1 situation effortlessly, and he has the coordination to pull off a difficult pass at top speed. He also profiles to be a good crosser, with his ability to make passes both to the back side and the near side. He is a good crosser and his left foot is also capable of shooting whether it be long shots or from set pieces.
The 22-year-old has been facing trouble regarding playing time in his present club, Barcelona. The manager, Ernesto Valverde doesn’t prefer to start Malcom in most of the matches, last season Malcom played 15 matches in La Liga and scored just one goal and managed to grab two assists. He just played 608 minutes in the league this season. However, he played three seasons in Ligue 1 for Bordeaux before his transfer to Barcelona and was incredible. He played 96 matches for the team, scored 23 goals and had 16 assists as a right-winger. Pretty impressive.
It would be fair to say that this player has a lot of potential, which is undermined in his present club. His current value in the transfer market is at 40 million euros, Manchester United are capable enough to pay such an amount for a right-winger they desperately need. Malcom is a good fit for the club, given his work rate and style of play.
Florian Thauvin –
The 26-year-old Frenchman is one of the finest right-wingers in Ligue 1. He has the perfect skill set required of a winger – his ability to hold on to the ball, to dribble, as well as his ability to effortlessly make through balls. He excels in working with the ball in tight areas. He doesn’t have the athleticism to sprint with the ball throughout the field, however, his talent in getting past opponents in tighter spaces make it easier for him to attack.
Thauvin played 33 matches in Ligue 1 last season – in which he scored 16 goals and had 8 assists. His form has been consistent for the past 3 seasons with Marseille in Ligue 1. Since the start of the 2016/2017 season, Thauvin has contributed 128 goals ( 78 goals and 50 assists) in all competitions for Marselleis which is quite impressive – considering his position as a winger. These stats reiterate that he is capable of scoring goals as well as creating chances for the team.
Thauvin, earlier, played for Newcastle United in the Premier League. His spell there invited a lot of criticism for the young player and he failed to perform in the Premier League. However, it is to be noted that he was only 22 when he went on to play for Newcastle and was still trying to cope with the physicality and pace of the Premier League.
Florian Thauvin is proof of just how challenging it can be to forecast player development and how wildly it can vary before a player delivers on early promise. His current market value is 45 million euros – not an insurmountable amount for the Red Devils. As a fast player who presses well and can beat his man, it won’t be long before we see him moving up the football ladder – possibly back in the Premier League itself.
Hakim Ziyech –
The 26-year-old Moroccan has had an incredible season in Ajax – delivering match-winning performances in all competitions. His positional sense as well as attacking flair haven’t only contributed to the team’s performance but also improved him as a player. He scored 21 goals and provided 24 assists in all competitions last season. It’s safe to say that all the goals he scored throughout the season are due to his incredible sense of positioning, strong off the ball movement as well as positional flair. Although he often switches between the left and the right-wing, he has been performing equally well on both sides – owing to his perfect timing and vision.
His footballing intelligence coupled with his ability to look for open spaces are the primary reason behind the 24 assists this season. Having an eye for the tiniest free space and his remarkable creativity has been decisive for the team’s good performances this season
The Moroccan’s versatility could prove to be the difference in United’s performances in the Premier League as well as other competitions. He is currently valued at 35 million euros – an affordable amount for the club. However, his modest price makes him a transfer target for more clubs. Manchester United need to make quick decisions if they intend to sign Ziyech.
Feature Image via Eurosport