Manchester United must solve the right-wing conundrum this summer

Manchester United have struggled to find a consistent right-winger for quite a long time now. The likes of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, although useful options have all failed to live up to the expectations of that role. When United signed Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window, most fans considered his arrival as an automatic solution to that problem. The Chilean international had previously operated in a similar role while at Serie A outfit Udinese and La Liga giants Barcelona.

Prior to that, Martial was in a fine fettle, probably his best run of form since joining United. At 83.5 minutes-per-goal involvement, he was only behind Sergio Aguero on 72.3 minutes and Mohamed Salah on 73.9 minutes. With silky feet and the ability to weave past defences, the 22-year-old offers a real attacking threat for United, causing all manner of problems for defenders. When shifted to the right side, Martial becomes entirely a different player and fails to exert as much influence as he does coming off from the left side of the attack.

On his Premier League debut, Sanchez was played on the left, with Martial moving to the right side; the result was an embarrassing loss in the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Mourinho kept deploying the duo in a similar fashion whenever he played them together, however, Martial was never to regain the momentum he started the season with. His dip in form caused him a place in the starting eleven, giving Lingard and Mata the opportunity to vie for more minutes. Lingard took the chance with both hands, establishing himself as a key player for Mourinho.

His blistering pace and the nous to go with it in terms of picking and timing his runs made him an ideal option for his manager and a makeweight for an increasingly peripheral Martial. It was only a matter of time before the current transfer circus hit almost every media outlet with reports that the French attacker is resigned to departing Old Trafford. Martial will, however, not the only player needing reassurances of his future at United; Mata may find himself in a similar situation, and one that he will be familiar with prior to his departure from Stamford Bridge four years ago.

The arrival of Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk and the reports that United are looking to sign a right-winger this summer may push the Spaniard further down the pecking order. Earlier in January, United triggered the option for one more year in Mata’s contract. At the time, Mourinho stated that the 30-year-old attacking midfielder was integral to his plans, and scoffed at the media for claiming he’d sell the attacker when he joined United. Mata has deservedly worked hard to earn a place under his current and former Chelsea manager, quelling any lingering doubts of his importance to the squad.

Out of his 38 appearances for United last season, 32 of those were as a right-winger; his lack of pace nonetheless, stresses the need for a natural right-winger to add in the depth of attack. The Spaniard may, however, find consolation in the fact that his manager has publicly and perhaps privately assured him of a major role to play at United; a look at how the gaffer has used him especially in key fixtures, however, points to a different story altogether.

Written by George Oduor

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