Manchester United have been in an impressive run of form during the second half of the 2019-20 campaign, a lot of credit for which can go to their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his dealings in the January transfer window.
The Norwegian’s decision to bring in Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon towards the end of January has paid rich dividends as the Red Devils are seriously challenging for a top-four finish to ensure Champions League football returns to Old Trafford next season.
The gap, as it stands right now, is four, with Manchester United having a game in hand over fourth-placed Leicester City.
However, while the three-way attacking line-up of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have been in amazing goalscoring form, being assisted well by the creative midfielders, Paul Pogba and Fernandes, there has been one particular area where Solskjaer’s side have looked vulnerable, and it’s the full-back position.
While summer signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka has looked a threat every time he has come forward to assist in attacks, even going on to set up two goals in Manchester United’s last four Premier League matches, the others have underwhelmed.
Luke Shaw has been good in parts, with the Englishman being defensively better than going forward.
The former Southampton star has been guilty of showing laid-back attitude, first against Sheffield United in the 3-0 Premier League win, and then against Norwich City in the FA Cup.
Manchester United skipper Harry Maguire had to tell the full-back to “step up” after Shaw’s loss in concentration nearly resulted in his side losing possession.
Against the Canaries, the Manchester giants allowed the Premier League strugglers to come back into the game despite being 1-0 up, and a lot of blame for that goes to the two full-backs – Diego Dalot and Luke Shaw – who were unable to stop Daniel Farke’s side from using the flanks for attacks.
Former Manchester United star Keith Gillespie slammed the 24-year-old for his lazy attitude during the match. He wrote on Twitter.
“Does Luke Shaw think this is a training game. Haven’t seen him sprint once!!!”
Right-back, Dalot was even worse in his single appearance since the resumption and had to be replaced by teenager Brandon Williams in the 63rd minute.
Williams has been one among a number of academy graduates to make his mark at the senior level this season, but former players have urged patience with regards to the 19-year-old.
Former Manchester United defender Wes Brown said in an interview:
“There’s no rush at all. I try and explain this to people when they say Williams should play every game and I say, ‘Not necessarily’.”
It leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with only one option, and that is to invest in that particular area of the pitch in order to make his team even more competitive next season.
There are two things that a new quality full-back will bring in at Old Trafford next season.
Adding pace to the Manchester United attack
These days, most teams across Europe tend to base their attack on wing play, with the full-backs playing important roles in that respect. While having a tall attacker inside the opponent box, the full-backs excel in delivering the right crosses to find the forward and trusting them to find the back of the net.
However, that is just an additional aspect of a full-back, with the main focus still being on fulfilling the defensive responsibilities. In order to do that, a full-back has to keep going up and down the pitch at tandem and, therefore, has to be supremely fit, often more fitter than other outfield players.
With the signing of a high-profile full-back, the Red Devils will be able to add quality down the flanks. It will also prevent opposing teams from hitting them on the counter.
Manchester United’s troubles against ‘weaker’ oppositions this season have been largely due to their inability to defend against counter-attacking football. And those teams have depended largely on wing plays.
The addition of a new high-profile full-back could, therefore, solve Manchester United’s problems against less-fancied outfits.
Competition for places will help bring the best out of the current lot
Bringing in a new player into the team will add to the competition for places in the playing eleven.
This, in turn, can help bring out the best from the existing players, who have been guilty of being lackadaisical at times.
At present, Aaron Wan-Bissaka looks like the only Manchester United full-back who is guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up.
However, it would be too much to expect the 21-year-old to play with the same intensity in every match throughout the season.
The summer signing from Crystal Palace will need some assistance and therein, comes the need for a new full-back.
However, at the end of the day, it will be up to the manager and the board to decide how they move forward in the transfer market come this summer.
Solskjaer has been with this team for the last one-and-a-half years and knows the requirements better than anyone else. But the recent displays from his full-backs will obviously keep him worried.