Jose Mourinho confirmed reports that Antonio Valencia, returning from international duty with Ecuador just one day before the Manchester Derby, could miss out on the action entirely. Valencia, who was nominated for the Premier League player of the month this August, has been in fantastic form for United, and his potential exclusion will only make United fans dislike the international break more. However, Mourinho has a squad of incredible depth, as constantly understood.
Mourinho’s two most likely depth options at right-back are the ones who played there in pre-season; Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Darmian arrived from Torino last season and struggled to adapt to the Premier League after being one of Europe’s best-performing fullbacks for the Serie A outfit. Fosu-Mensah rose to prominence debuting for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United side at right-back, and the 18-year-old, who is a midfielder by trade, impressed with his tactically astute, physically dominant performances. However, he did show his inexperience on occasion and is, as aforementioned, a midfielder.
Mourinho’s incredible squad depth allows him to evaluate his options and choose who is best for the fixture. Whoever he chooses will likely have to come up against all of Pep Guardiola’s attacking midfielders, as their free-flowing final third football needs to be marked zonally. Darmian, experienced defensively, is more suited to marking this way, with Fosu-Mensah more adept in a system where he dives into tackles and follows a specific man.
Against Tottenham Hotspur last season, Fosu-Mensah played superbly against the likes of Christian Eriksen, man-marking the technically gifted Dane and not allowing him into the game. However, when Darmian entered the pitch, he struggled with Eriksen’s world class technical ability and United quickly shipped three goals. Meanwhile, in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, Fosu-Mensah, defending space, gave up territory and conceded a penalty. His tackle was outstanding and the penalty was wrongly given, but the situation should not have occurred in the first place.
That being said, United’s attacking midfield trio plays very narrowly, and the fullbacks are expected to provide width. Darmian constantly struggled on the buccaneering side of Premier League football, with his poor crossing not meeting the standards of a Premier league fullback. Fosu-Mensah, meanwhile, provided assists and created many chances in his spell at right-back. Darmian’s tireless energy and neat passing down the right flank is, unfortunately for him, also an asset of Fosu-Mensah’s, and the young Dutchman can cross the ball incredibly too.
The icing on the cake for Fosu-Mensah is his incredible physicality- he is an asset defending set-pieces, while most United fans will remember Darmian puncturing a lung while putting his body on the line to prevent Charlie Austin from scoring for Southampton at Old Trafford. As for Darmian, the clear advantage he has over Fosu-Mensah is his experience- Darmian has played at a World Cup, in the Euros, on both flanks for club and country, in multiple leagues and in the Champions League. At 26, he is a staple for Italy and has even won their national team’s player of the year award.
In conclusion, United’s crisis may not be as bad as it initially seemed. With one of the aforementioned duo set to be thrown into the deep end against the best side United will likely play against this season, a good performance from either will have United’s squad depth once again heralded- United’s options off the bench changed the game against Hull, and they will need to do the same from the off against City. Overall, I would give a slight edge to Fosu-Mensah, simply because I believe his confidence is higher than Darmian’s. The Italian needs to be slowly reintroduced into Premier League football, and I think he is the best candidate to be Luke Shaw’s backup at left-back once he fully adjusts. Until then, though, Fosu-Mensah showed that he can live up to the occasion, and I think he could even take his chance and replace Valencia in the first team.