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The “Right” Right-Back: Kieran Trippier or Diogo Dalot?

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“I was kind of shocked by how good he was when I played against him. I’ve played against a few decent right backs and he’s one of them. I don’t understand how you go from a winger to a right back because he’s so good at defending, but I think that’s his natural position.”

These are the words of Wilfried Zaha about his former Crystal Palace teammate, and current Manchester United defender, Aaron Wan-Bissaka. In a slight twist, Zaha himself was briefly a United player having been Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing.

Wan-Bissaka was signed in the summer of 2019, as part of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s restructuring of the defence, following half a decade of instability at the right back position for the club following the retirement of Gary Neville and the subsequent departures of Rafael and Fabio Da Silva from the club.

In the absence of adequate replacements, Antonio Valencia, originally a winger, played as a makeshift right back during his last two to three seasons at the club.

What Wan-Bissaka provides to the team is a defensive solidity that has not been seen at the club for years. He is, arguably, one of the top three right backs in the world when it comes to one on one defending. 

While his positional sense is still a bit suspect, mostly due to his tendency to drift centrally at times, he mostly makes up for it with his extremely high tackle percentage rate.

There have been questions raised about his attacking ability, but this needs to be put into context. At Palace, he played in a team that played extremely reactive football, which meant he had to do a very high volume of defending. 

Additionally the lack of a right winger at United hasn’t helped Wan-Bissaka to develop an understanding similar to Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford on the left wing, with Daniel James and Mason Greenwood filling in at that position with moderate success. In spite of all that, he still contributed two goals and five assists last season, numbers which are not to be scoffed at. The imminent arrival of Jadon Sancho should boost Wan-Bissaka’s numbers from an attacking viewpoint.

There is however, a recognition at the club that Wan-Bissaka’s playing time needs to be cut down to an extent. Without a proper backup right back at the club, he has had to play almost all of the matches this season, which has understandably led to burnout and a slight drop off in performance levels at the end of the season.

There are, broadly speaking, two options available to the club. Either recall Diogo Dalot to the club from his loan at AC Milan or sign another defender with an Alex Telles like profile. (experienced, defensively solid and happy to be a squad player)

Kieran Trippier, a La Liga winner with Atlético Madrid, has been extensively linked with a transfer, though there is uncertainty about the exact valuation with multiple sources quoting figures between £15-40 million.

He offers a different set of strengths, primarily his positional sense and ball interceptions and is a more expert crosser of the ball, adept at taking set pieces, especially free kicks near the edge of the box. Additionally, he brings a title winner mentality to a largely young dressing room and that is an intangible that matters but cannot be measured in numbers.

He offers flexibility in formation as well, able to play as a fullback or wingback.

It would appear however that the club is prioritising other positions to strengthen first, in central defence and midfield, which gives an indirect indication that they might not be willing to pay too much money for a short term, squad player.

In that case, the club should simply recall Dalot from his loan at Milan. He has had a reasonable spell, mostly playing as a starter in the Europa League and as an impact bench player in Serie A. Despite the limited game time, he has contributed two goals and assists while being reasonably secure defensively.

In terms of style of play, Dalot plays more as a winger or midfielder than a traditional fullback. His attacking instincts mean that he can be caught out defensively at times, though he is also good at tactical fouling to break up opposition attacks. He can cross very well and can play long balls from deep to facilitate rapid counter attacks. He is also the youngest of the three players that have been discussed, having only turned 22 and therefore has time to refine and improve his defensive abilities.

Both Trippier and Dalot can play on both wings, though as they are right footed, they are understandably more comfortable on the right.

In the end, it comes down to what the coaching staff at United want in their fullbacks, what sort of qualities they value. To provide a personal opinion, it would probably be best for the club to spend around £18-20 million for a proven, experienced player who can guide Wan-Bissaka as well as prove to be a threat off the bench in certain match situations.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

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