The pressure was on for Manchester United in match day two of the Champions League, in a crucial match against Europa League winners Villarreal. After going a goal down, United managed to get back into the game through the medium of an unlikely hero in Brazilian left-back Alex Telles, who scored the equaliser and his first goal for United.
Telles met an unorthodox Bruno Fernandes free kick with a precise arrowing volley, managing to weave its way through a blockade of players into the corner of the net. The Brazilian has struggled for game time in his relatively short United career thus far, but a crucial goal in the Champions League feels like it could be the springboard for a new dawn in his career.
This article will look at the Brazilian’s career so far and then analyse how it could be turned around in the coming season, while also assessing what he can contribute for United when at his best.
It was back in October 2020 that United paid a fee of around £13.6 million to Porto for the services of the left-back, in a deal that saw him sign a four-year contract with the option for an extension. At the time Telles was signed to provide genuine competition for up and down English left-back Luke Shaw, who had won United’s player of the year in 2019 (and recently in 2021) but had nobody of real experience to challenge him or cover for him in his absence aside from youngster Brandon Williams.
Telles was seen as a good signing, with good reason too, the full back has scored 26 goals and provided more than 50 assists for Porto, known as much for his attacking prowess as his defending. Over his career Telles has been known to occasionally score a wonder goal from distance, alongside possessing an impressive crossing ability, so perhaps Telles’s most recent volley in the Champions League should come as no surprise to those who know him best.
However, for the majority of United fans it was a bolt from the blue to see the Brazilian sliding on the Old Trafford turf after a sublime volley, before this Telles had failed to make any real significant impact since signing for United.
On the contrary, it could be argued that Telles has actually made a huge impact with his arrival. While not directly, there are no doubts the arrival of Telles has reignited a fire in Shaw who had a tremendous season in 20/21. While good for United, Telles will be disappointed that he’s barely had a look in over the last season, playing second fiddle to perhaps one of the best performing defenders in the world over the last year or so.
Due to Shaw’s impressive form, Telles was restricted to just nine Premier League appearances across last season, which is hardly enough to make a meaningful impact on the team or gain a decent match rhythm. Despite this, Telles had a top-class debut performance for United, playing a pivotal role in United’s 2-1 win at Parc des Princes against Paris Saint-Germain in 2020.
Many thought that this debut would spark a fierce rivalry with Shaw for the left-back position, however where Shaw managed to kick on, Telles faltered, seemingly not quite offering as much in attacking spaces or even being as defensively sound as the Englishman.
While Shaw has subsequently won another player of the year award and scored in the final of the Euros, Telles had to deal with another injury setback back in July, picking up an ankle injury just weeks before the start of the season. The Brazilian seemed defiant in his quest to recover though, taking to social media to profess his desire to come back stronger, citing a big change in himself to come.
This determined attitude may have paid off for Telles, as he impressively took his opportunity to shine for United in the win over Villarreal. It was really a makeshift defence by United’s standards, Harry Maguire and Shaw both out recovering from minor injuries while Aaron Wan Bissaka was suspended.
This led to the reappearance of Victor Lindelof, as well as full back Diogo Dalot who was on the opposite flank to Telles. United were shaky defensively, embodying the jumbled arrangement of personnel, however Telles stood out as one of the better performers. Solid going forward and having a relatively sound defensive game, Telles increased his stock amongst United supporters with his overall performance.
It may have also stood out even more considering Dalot on the right hand side had a torrid game, tormented by the Villarreal forwards and generally making poor decisions all game. This perhaps highlights the gulf in experience between youngster Dalot and seasoned 28-year-old Telles, who has a habit of performing well in high pressure European games.
Telles will now hope this impressive showing will allow him to improve his fortunes at United, hopeful that he will be afforded more game time over the coming season. Additionally, Shaw has appeared a little burnt out in recent weeks so therefore Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be forced to rely on Telles more, who would hope he can replicate his impressive display.
It’s clear that Telles possesses the ability to be a quality full back, he’s demonstrated it at Porto, so United will be hopeful that the arrival of his first goal for the club can shepherd in a newfound confidence for the Brazilian, allowing him to truly make his mark for the club in the coming season.
Written by Sam Wilson