Antonio Valencia’s abhorrent form at the end of Louis van Gaal’s first season at Manchester United prompted the Dutchman to delve into the market and sign Matteo Darmian from Torino. Darmian came in as a promising right-back who would become one of the best in the world if he could improve his crossing on the training pitch.
His start reflected that too, as he impressed United fans with his shop shut defending, tireless energy down the flank and impressive passing of the ball that earned him player of the month in his first season at United. However, eventually, performances became shaky and injuries began to surface, including a punctured lung after he prevented Charlie Austin from winning a header when United played Southampton.
The signs Darmian showed of being an absolutely world class fullback were equally outweighed by his occasional display of failure to adjust to the Premier League, and, combined with Louis van Gaal’s ability to instruct him as a substitute, he became prone to late errors when brought on the pitch late in matches. His season ended with a goal and assist display against Crystal Palace from left-back, but Luke Shaw is clearly United’s left-back, which left that performance relatively unconsidered.
Many believe Jose Mourinho doesn’t favour the Italian because of his inability to cross the ball effectively, which has fuelled links moving Darmian back to Serie A. Moving in the opposite direction, reportedly, is Fabinho, Monaco’s bright young Brazilian talent who can play at right-back and in holding midfield.
With Darmian’s situation as interesting as ever, and Fabinho rumoured to be joining Manchester United before the end of the window, it seems as if Darmian’s short tenure at United is over already. Is that really the correct solution for Manchester United, or should Mourinho be putting more faith in the Italian? Should Mourinho really be signing Fabinho? Put simply, who is the better fullback?
Matteo Darmian, 26
Advantages: Darmian is an experienced Italian international, can play both right-back and left-back, and already has a year of Premier League experience under his belt. He also offers a completely different style to Antonio Valencia, who appears to be United’s starting right-back, and has the potential to further improve.
Disadvantages: Darmian, as aforementioned, has frustrated United fans with his inability to cross a ball. He also made a couple of high-profile errors last season, though, as aforementioned, van Gaal and the United coaching team were to blame for a large portion of them.
Advantages: Fabinho is a very bright young fullback who already plays at a high level. He comes from Monaco, the same club from which United signed Patrice Evra and Anthony Martial, and he can play in defensive midfield as well. He is destined to be one of the best right-backs in the world, and he is already close to being in that bracket.
Disadvantages: There will be a learning curve if Fabinho chooses to play Premier League football, and Darmian is further up that learning curve. In addition, Fabinho does not have the experience and his versatility will be less useful to United than Darmian’s, more in need of depth at left-back than in midfield, especially if Marcos Rojo is leaving. He will reportedly cost somewhere between €25 million (£21.25 million) and £25 million.
In last season’s domestic leagues, Matteo Darmian performed slightly better defensively than Fabinho, in a more difficult league, magnifying the fact Darmian’s defensive errors were presented by the tactical deficiencies of United’s system. Darmian’s tackles, interceptions, and clearances added up to 8.14 defensive actions per 90 minutes, compared to Fabinho’s 7.74. Neither made a defensive error from open play in league competition last season, which proves both that Fabinho is up to the standard and Darmian wasn’t a liability last year.
Not many Manchester United fans noticed just how adept Darmian was at passing the ball between the lines. His passes and movement between the lines could be important for United in this upcoming season, especially in a system that will allow him to attack more frequently. However, Fabinho completes double the crosses, double the key passes and triple the number of dribbles in comparison to Darmian, which explains the reported reasons for which Fabinho is replacing Darmian.
If Jose Mourinho wants to add Fabinho, it will probably be a good move for Manchester United, answering all the questions behind United’s fullbacks. Valencia typically endures patches of abject form, though United should aim to also give Fosu-Mensah time at right-back. However, Darmian remains an asset to United that the Red Devils shouldn’t sell.
With Cameron Borthwick-Jackson moving out on loan, the players who can play left-back in United’s squad are Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, and Daley Blind. The latter is better served as a full-time centre-back, and Rojo is a far worse left-back than Darmian. With Fabinho, Fosu-Mensah and Valencia on the right and Shaw and Darmian (perhaps Blind or Joe Riley) on the left, United would be more than stocked in what is the shallowest position of a very deep squad.