The summer of 2014 saw Manchester United bring in big attacking names, as newly appointed boss Louis van Gaal prepared to drag the Old Trafford side back into the Champions League. A year on, it is the positions further back in the side that the Dutchman has spent close to £80million on to fine tune his squad.
For a team so top-heavy last season, with big names failing to perform, the onus seems to have shifted to sorting out the back line. Though no big name centre back has walked through the door just yet, United seemed to have addressed another issue that has plagued the side for a number of years.
Since club icon Gary Neville retired, the Manchester side have struggled to adequately replace their former captain. Rafeal has recently left the club for pastures new, and despite a cult following picked up as a result of some heroic performances against Liverpool – never truly convinced in the role.
Antonio Valencia has been shifted back into the role, though his defensive qualities leave a lot to be desired. Basic mistakes as a makeshift defender pretty much summed the red side of Manchester up over the past few years.
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Perhaps the most understated of the new arrivals is Italian international full back Matteo Darmian. A £12.7m acquisition from Serie A side Torino, the athletic right back impressed on his competitive debut for the Red Devils, in their opening weekend victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
If his performance against Spurs is anything to go by, Darmian can address the right back issue. Singled out for his display by his manager, the former Palermo defender, along with Luke Shaw on the opposite flank, bucked the trend of a modern day full back – and made defending his priority.
Effective and efficient over flashy, the speedster expertly closed down Spurs’ attacks during the game, preventing the likes of Nacer Chadli, Christian Erkisen and Harry Kane from getting a sniff at the United goal.
Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling have significantly upped their games recently, and the addition of the Italian gives the Red Devils three quarters of top defence. Their new right-back perfectly slots into the system deployed by their Dutch boss.
His dynamite defensive display was coupled with exciting attacking play. His new manager waxed lyrical about his new man ‘he played a good match in the Spurs half and when the opponents had the ball.’
With a respectable pass success rate of 86.1%, the 25-year old is clearly comfortable in possession, as van Gaal looks for his side to play out from the back. Three tackles and five clearances during his maiden 81 minutes in England show how solid he is when back in own half.
A powerful runner, the man who impressed against England during last summer’s World Cup clash in Brazil looks to be a great fit for his new side. A man of the match performance during his country’s 2-1 win over England on that muggy night in Manaus, coupled with another MOTM display during his debut in the Premier League is extremely promising.
While it is premature to mention the new man in the same breath as a stalwart like Gary Neville, the Italian’s early form is promising. Darmian can at least go some way in filling the void left since the former England international’s retirement over four years ago.