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…
At a combined £77m, Manchester United possess two starting full-backs who could dominate the Red Devils’ back-line for the next decade or so. Luke Shaw already feels like an old hand, having arrived at Old Trafford back in the summer of 2014. Aaron Wan-Bissaka however is a relative newbie, leaving Crystal Palace in the summer transfer window this year.
At 24 and 21 respectively, they certainly have time on their hands. But for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the duo could be the surprising keys to how United’s current season pans out.
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But just as important will be the contributions United’s full-backs make. Against Chelsea, both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw helped the side keep a clean sheet against their top-four rivals, but were often guilty of being caught out of position. The likes of Ross Barkley and Pedro found themselves in acres of space more often than expected, and but for some profligate finishing, United’s defensive pair could have been made to pay.
Then at Molineux, both showed exactly why the Red Devils splashed out big-money to sign them. Wan-Bissaka registered a ridiculous nine tackles – the most that any player across the Premier League managed over the course of the opening two game-weeks.
But whilst the England U21 international was living up to his “Spider” nick-name with some crunching challenges, Shaw was leaving Matt Doherty for dust in a dominant first-half performance. Indeed, Anthony Martial’s goal came about because Shaw had gone on a lung-busting run and acted as a decoy for Marcus Rashford to slip his strike partner through.
Against teams that look to sit-back and counter, both Shaw and Wan-Bissaka will have to carry some of the workload going forward. Solskjaer’s side simply cannot rely on their pacy front-line to do the damage. Overlapping runs, crosses into the box and creating width on the flanks will be some of the things needed from the full-backs.
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Last season, Wan-Bissaka averaged a measly 73% pass accuracy and just 0.3 crosses per game. His new United teammate fared much better in terms of his accuracy with 83.3%, but had an equally poor record when it came to putting deliveries into the box with just 0.5 per game in the Premier League.
The duo will need to up those numbers considerably if they are to provide Solskjaer with the kind of attacking outlet his side needs, or United risk becoming far too reliant on their rather one-dimensional attack to both supply and score goals.