Daniel James has been at Manchester United football club for over two years now after his £16 million move from Swansea in the summer of 2019, but has failed to secure a guaranteed starting place on either of the wings. With the emergence of Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo, Anthony Elanga and the signing of Jadon Sancho, competition for places is at an all-time high for Daniel James and this season maybe his last to fully prove his worth to the club.
So, what does Daniel James bring to the team?
James main attribute is his speed, he has exhilarating pace which can prove deadly on the counter-attack instilling fear into the oppositions defence when he’s running at them with pace and power. This has been most effective in the bigger games when there’s more space to run into rather than the tighter affairs in which teams sit back and United must break them down. Some of his best performances have come against Manchester City as United have kept it tight supressing City’s forward force before breaking out and piercing through their open defence with the sheer speed of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and James.
Another quality aspect of his game is his work rate. With some wingers they can be interested when they have the ball, but that hunger dies once the ball is lost, with James he’s the opposite. He chases and chases, running down dead passes attempting to do anything to win the ball back for his team. This can prove incredibly useful as with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attempt to press, a combination of his speed and work rate means he can put in crucial interceptions or blocks stopping the oppositional advance and potentially winning the ball high up the pitch posing a menacing threat to the opposition.
With a poacher like Edinson Cavani, the ability to put in a good cross is invaluable and James can do so. He uses his speed to beat his man before picking out a cross in the middle, this was at it’s most effective for Wales in the euros as through their target man Kieffer Moore he could put some dangerous crosses in which Moore would meet.
However, the reason James’ ability is highly questioned is his basic footballing brain and his ability in tight spaces. In the Premier League, you can’t expect broad open games all of the time, and James can be susceptible to becoming obsolete in a game as he lacks natural ability to play in tight spaces. This leaves an in-balance on the right flank as the ball often flows to the left as that’s where the team is more comfortable but thus making it easier to defend as the opposition place focus on those players.
Furthermore, James’ footballing brain is quite weak. At times he can just look to always try beat a man for speed becoming quite predictable and then once the defender has matched this it shuts down the right flank further. As a creator, he has a good cross but his overall link up play is weak, and he can give the ball away frequently due to poor weight of pass. His overall effect on the team is mixed, at times he can be very useful whereas others he becomes a liability.
Due to this, many have questioned whether others should take his spot in the team. He’s 23 turning 24 in November so is no spring chicken and with highly promising players like Elanga turning up in pre-season it starts to make you wonder whether these players should be given a chance. Recently in a press conference, Solskjaer stated his approval of Amad Diallo in training and the potential of him staying this season rather than going on loan. However, Solskjaer has been known to be deceiving to the media as previously he mentioned the importance of Alexis Sanchez to his squad, and he left that same transfer window.
But with the potential of Amad staying, this would be yet another player competing with James in the team especially due to the enormous potential of Amad and the big fee that came with him, Solskjaer will likely look to implement him into the team in future. When United have a full squad, the likely wingers will be Rashford off the left, Sancho off the right with Martial as a backup for Rashford and then Mason Greenwood as a backup for Sancho. In addition, when Rashford isn’t available, Solskjaer is often keen to use Paul Pogba off the left, thus leaving less and less space for James to get into the team. However, James is quite versatile and so can play off either flank, which if injuries do plague the squad could become a useful asset to keep hold of.
Therefore, I feel Solskjaer should keep James with the team until January letting players like Amad and Shoretire continue to train with the first team before potentially giving them opportunities in the League Cup or FA Cup games in the future. With Rashford likely out till October, keeping James who is an experienced player now with the squad could prove handy squad depth and will give Solskjaer that versatility in selections to use James’ unique attributes in more open games catered to his abilities.
Finally, in January, unless James has had a huge boost in form, with Rashford back and the youngsters more developed, Solskjaer should look to find James a loan to see if he can find his feet in the Premier League like Jesse Lingard did revitalising his career. If this loan is successful, United could ship him off for a profitable fee in the summer which would likely be the best for Manchester United and for James career individually.
Overall, I feel this season is the make or break for James as if he doesn’t live up to Solskjaer’s expectations he will likely be transferred out in the summer, so if James wants to succeed at Manchester United he needs to have a big season ahead.
Written by Ethan Bents