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Dalot down? What the young Portuguese full-back faces during the 2019/20 season

Manchester United completed the signing of Diogo Dalot from FC Porto in June of last year, for a fee of £19 million. The Portuguese full-back, 20, signed a five-year contract at the club. Then-manager José Mourinho believed this would only be the beginning for him at United. Dalot’s debut for the club was delayed, as he had suffered a knee injury which ended his participation in the season prior, where Porto were crowned champions of the Primeira Liga.

He recovered from the injury, making his debut in mid-September away at BSC Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League group stage. Dalot went on to make 23 appearances for United in 2018/19 and regularly played as a full-back or wing-back on either flank. He also appeared as the right-midfielder for a few games. This summer, Dalot participated in the FIFA U-20 World Cup with Portugal.

United meanwhile, secured the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace. This purchase proved to be especially pleasing for United fans, who had previously noted a contrast between the two players. Dalot possesses impressive crossing and dribbling skills while Wan-Bissaka has proven himself to be a defensively efficient right-back. Dalot started his career as a full-back who can play further forward while Wan-Bissaka started his career as a winger before being converted into a right-back.

This, of course, has led to the misconception that Dalot is primarily an attacking full-back while Wan-Bissaka is a defensive one. The Englishman possesses significant technical ability going forward and has already picked up an assist for United. Somewhat surprisingly, Dalot ranks level with Wan-Bissaka with respect to the number of times he is dribbled past by an opposition player per game in the Premier League, although the Portuguese did not play as many minutes.

The age of both players hints at further development of the supposedly weaker elements of their games in the coming years. Dalot has only recently turned 20, while Wan-Bissaka turns 22 in November. United also have the highly-rated Ethan Laird on their books so it appears the club need not search for a right-sided full-back for the foreseeable future. Laird has only just turned 18 and has also played in a number of different positions for the reserves and U18s.

From what fans have seen of United on Tour 2019, it does appear that Dalot is to start 2019/20 as Wan-Bissaka’s deputy, with Ashley Young occupying the same role for the opposite flank. This is a significant upgrade from last season, where Young was the first-choice right-back and Antonio Valencia struggled for fitness. Wan-Bissaka’s impressive showings during pre-season has led United fans to believe that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could actually use Dalot as the right-sided attacker.

Dalot himself has stated that his goal for the future is to become United’s first-choice right-back but a few appearances further forward may still be on the cards, particularly if Wan-Bissaka takes his form into the season proper. This is an option for Solskjaer, should he want to play a team with extra defensive solidity on the right. Dalot could also find himself playing at left-back or as a wing-back, depending on player availability or on tactical plans drawn up by United’s management team.

Solskjaer’s current preference for the 4-2-3-1 formation limits to Dalot to either right- or left-back. The Norwegian has also used a number of different formations during his time as United manager and Dalot has proven himself versatile enough to occupy various roles in these systems. It is still worth noting that Dalot’s career is still in its infancy. He has played nearly as many games for United in one season than he had at Porto in the two seasons prior.

The 2019/20 season will only be his second full season as a first-team player as he spent the majority of his time at Porto playing in the reserves. United were convinced to buy him, despite him having made only six first-team for Porto and being sidelined with injury at the time. They reportedly acted to secure his services ahead of a number of major European clubs, who were readying offers for him as his contract was expiring.

Dalot was also a member of the Portugal under-17 team which won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in 2016. He scored twice in the tournament, including a goal in the final. Remarkably, he participated in the Under-19 Championship that took place later that same year. The following year, he was again part of the under-19 squad at their European Championship, this time finishing as runners-up.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament on both occasions his team made it to the final. Even his involvement in this year’s under-20 World Cup was not his first, as he had been part of Portugal’s squad in the previous edition in 2017. This is evidence of both quality and potential that Dalot possesses, the latter of which he should be allowed to fulfil at United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is in the process of transitioning the club’s squad into one that is younger and hungrier for success. Dalot is one of the players already at the club who fits the profile.

Written by Shiven Nayager

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