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Manchester United and width, a match made in Heaven

Manchester United have always been associated with fine wing play. There is a long list of wide players who’ve represented Manchester United. From speedy wingers (Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs, Lee Sharpe) to clever players (Gordan Strachan), to intelligent and sublime deliverers of the ball (David Beckham, Steve Coppell) to the crazy players who have all the attributes and are the very best (Cristiano Ronaldo, George Best).

As we prepare for the coming season, the pieces of the squad are coming together nicely, with a notable exception – a bona fide wide man. Even Jose Mourinho has called this out as a concern, which is a demonstrable example of him exerting some pressure on the club to help him satisfy that glaring shortcoming in the squad. Henrikh Mkhitaryan can go some way to filling that position, however he’s more a playmaker who cuts inside and ploughs a furrow behind the striker(s), in the hole which is great and is an important attacking outlet, however you still need players with a natural tendency to push out wide and add another dimension. It’s true that we’ve seen both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial employed in wider positions at times, however this has always had the feel of a ‘forced’ solution rather than a natural fit, as the way to release the best facets of their games is by playing them at centre-forward, which is where they come to life.

So what other options are there in the squad? I love the tricky artistry painted by our Spanish genius Juan Mata, however much like Mkhitaryan, I see him as a creative playmaker probing behind the front line, and able to spot a killer through ball rather than an actual winger of sorts. Perhaps the most obvious player to fill this void is home-grown talent, Jesse Lingard. A player of supreme talent, of which there is no doubt and a player who has the prestige of knowing where the goal is when he gets to Wembley. However, despite all his natural ability, there doesn’t seem to be a way that this talent can emerge consistently week in, week out, and despite his goal scoring heroics at Wembley, only managed a solitary Premier League goal last term and three assists in all competitions, despite making 42 appearances.

There is an argument that says that perhaps a playing system which encourages the use of wing-backs is the solution to a flighted ball into the box, and there is an argument that both Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw are capable of delivering a decent cross, however once again the figures don’t make for pretty reading with only five assists between them last season.

You need variety when it comes to breaking down the opposition, as last season proved, and a whipped in ball from the flanks provides an another attacking option and with the addition of a strong centre forward in Romelu Lukaku, having a player who can deliver crosses from deep will be a real asset.

I believe that it’s conclusive that Manchester United need someone who can deliver quality crosses into the box, as we are light in that area. However, who will fit the bill? There is already a long list of speculative targets and one thing is clear, and Mourinho is 100% correct that the team needs another wide man, and this should be something of a priority. The squad has been strengthened wisely so far and given that glut of drawn matches last season, another angle is required to create goals and this doesn’t need to necessarily be a pacy winger (although that would be my preference, given the excitement it brings), however, someone who can rack up 10-15 assists and chip in with a few goals to boot, could hold the key to Manchester United having a good season or a great season!

Written by Paul Young

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