This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Both at opposite ends of their respective careers, Ashley Young and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been regular fixtures in Manchester United’s starting eleven this season, playing a combined total of 23 games.
Whilst Young has been one of the club’s scapegoats in recent seasons – the 34-year-old was even booed his own fans during the club’s pre-season tour earlier in the summer – Wan-Bissaka has quickly established himself as a fan favourite. The £50m signing from Crystal Palace has won the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful with his full-blooded approach, and is third for most tackles made in the Premier League despite missing two matches this season.
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But, one thing neither have been particularly good at, is their contributions going forward. Prior to Thursday night’s comprehensive victory over Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League, Young and Wan-Bissaka had not provided a single goal or assist.
The Red Devils as a whole have been rather goal-shy, managing just 13 goals in 11 league games, and scoring more than once in a game on just two separate occasions before Thursday’s 3-0 triumph. The role of the modern full-back has seen a growing emphasis on what they can contribute going forward, and finally, United’s pair seemed unleashed from their shackles.
As per Whoscored, their heat-maps paint a startling picture of just how much they occupied the space in the opposition half, compared to their positioning in the dismal 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth last weekend. Both Wan-Bissaka and Young averaged far higher positions, and it was the latter’s late entry into the penalty box that saw him lay the ball off for Marcus Rashford’s superbly struck goal.
When you don’t have full-backs either willing or capable of getting on the overlap and providing an alternative to the wingers, then attacks can often become stale, and the forwards isolated. Solskjaer’s more aggressive use of them on Thursday has well and truly provided the benchmark for how they should be setting up and performing from now on.
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Together, they completed five successful dribbles, had two shots, three key passes and four accurate long balls as per Sofascore. The duo looked far more dangerous with the kind of spaces they were taking, and with some better deliveries, could have seen United go out of sight.
It may only have been against a side who are currently fourth in Serbia’s Super Liga, but ultimately, it provided a real taster of what could be on the cards if Solskjaer gets his two full-backs to throw caution to the wind.