This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is one of the best right-backs around after he enjoyed an incredible 2018/19 campaign with Crystal Palace in which he finished as the Premier League’s best defensive full-back.
Deal agreed! ?
Manchester United are reported to have reached an agreement with Crystal Palace to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £50m ?
He's one of the Premier League's most exciting full backs ? pic.twitter.com/TergBLQ1lp
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) June 26, 2019
In just his first full season as a senior player, the England Under-21 star recorded the highest amount of clearances, tackles, take-ons and interceptions out of every full-back in England’s top-flight. Pretty impressive stuff.
However, he really isn’t as good going forward.
The Eagles academy graduate had just 0.3 shots per game on average last season, and was only able to muster up a measly 0.4 key passes per game. To compare, Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded 1.7 key passes per game, and finished with nine more assists that Wan-Bissaka’s three.
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But there is another comparison to be made with a Premier League full-back which suggests that the £50m man can become a competent figure in more than one position just through his sheer natural ability to defend.
Stark similarities with Cesar Azpilicueta when the Spaniard played at left-back instead of his natural right-back position in 2014/15 implies that Wan-Bissaka could become an effective option at the heart of defence too – where his lack of offensive output won’t be so much of an issue.
As you can see, Wan-Bissaka betters Azpilicueta’s defensive stats in every department – it is an extremely telling graphic when you see how the 21-year-old compares up against a player who was considered the best in the league at the time.
Both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher named the former Marseille full-back as the best defender in the Premier League back in November 2014, in the early stages of a campaign where Azpilicueta went on to win the title under Jose Mourinho.
The fact that Wan-Bissaka has bettered the 29-year-old’s defensive statistics from that specific season speaks volumes about just how good, and how natural, a defender he really is.
Azpilicueta was eventually moved into centre-back when Antonio Conte rocked up on these shores at the start of the 2016/17 season, and it was a position that he took to like a duck to water thanks to his immense defensive capabilities.
The 5 foot 10 defender was deployed in a three-man centre-back system in a 3-4-3 formation, and once again won the league title whilst recording some pretty impressive defensive figures. He made 2.2 tackles per game, 1.9 interceptions and 3.1 clearances and on top of that registered six assists.
Wan-Bissaka is not a particularly formidable aerial presence by centre-back standards standing at just 6 foot – but is height really such an important trait for a centre-half in the modern game? Roberto Firmino was the first-choice top six striker with the most headed goals last season, and he only notched up three.
It seems quality in possession is more important these days – the money Manchester City spent on John Stones and Aymeric Laporte is a prime example of that – and Wan-Bissaka’s competent on the ball, even if that doesn’t always translate into defensive flair.
But the fact that the Manchester United new boy bettered Azpilicueta’s stats from what is considered the Spaniard’s best season in England in just his first full term as a senior professional is eye-catching.
And it suggests Wan-Bissaka may have the potential to follow in Azpilicueta’s footsteps by slotting into a more central defensive role in future, judging by their similarities as naturally gifted defenders.
The Chelsea man displayed excellent defensive qualities at full-back which allowed him to adapt instantly to becoming a formidable centre-half, and Wan-Bissaka has shown he has the potential to follow suit. Maybe a back three would fit him more than a two-man partnership, but the latter shouldn’t be ruled out either.
One final thing to take from this, however, is that they are both extremely talented defenders – with time on his side, Wan-Bissaka could become a well-rounded and versatile defensive force akin to the Chelsea star.