The acquisition of the highly rated right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka this summer was a fine piece of business for Manchester United.
The 21-year-old was a top performer in the Premier League last season and while he built up a reputation as a solid defender, it was his prowess going forward that made him a standout candidate.
He averaged 3.34 successful dribbles per 90 minutes last year. That figure ranked him second overall in the Premier League for right-backs who played over 1000 league minutes.
His arrival at Old Trafford has no doubt cemented him as the club’s chief right-back and will likely see club captain Ashley Young play a more limited role next season. But what about United’s other right-back, Diogo Dalot?
The Portuguese signed for the Red Devils last summer for £19m and despite being hampered by some injuries, enjoyed a fairly solid debut season at the club, playing well over 1600 minutes of first-team action. Notably, over half of those minutes coming as a right-back.
Although a good move for the club, Wan-Bissaka’s arrival could see Dalot’s development halted, certainly in a right-back role at least. Given Wan-Bissaka is only one-year Dalot’s senior, it is unlikely he will act as an understudy to the former-Palace man, so does this mean his future lies away from the club?
Not at all.
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It’s important to note Dalot possesses great versatility. He is comfortable using both his right and left foot which effectively makes him a valuable defender capable of not only featuring as a right-back, but also a left-back when required. Especially relevant given Luke Shaw’s history with injuries.
The Englishman is the only specialist left-back within the side, therefore it is important to have someone like Dalot able to provide some much needed cover.
Featuring in both positions last season, Dalot proved himself physically imposing by relying on his 6ft frame to come out on top in 71.9 per cent of his aerial duels. Meanwhile on the deck, he illustrated a high footballing IQ in terms of reading the oppositions threat and averaged 4.54 interceptions per 90 minutes.
Obviously strong in defence, another striking asset in the 20-year-old was his ability to drive forward with the ball from deep and work himself into the attacking third. Across all competitions, he averaged 1.75 progressive runs last season and made an average of 1.6 successful dribbles per 90 minutes.
When he gets into those advanced areas through strong running play, he can utilise his varied skillset to create chances for team-mates. His capacity to successfully use both feet makes it difficult for defenders to anticipate whether he will look to cut inside and swing a ball in, or stay on the outside and whip a ball in from there.
These winger-like credentials could see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer utilise the Portuguese player further forward next season.
As the below clip illustrates which was taken from United vs Fulham last season, Dalot in the top left of the shot exhibits an air of comfort in playing high and wide upon the oppositions defensive line.
From these positions, once he receives the ball, he is equipped to drive into the crosshatched danger area or play a quick cross into the box for the chosen United striker to run and attack.
In the Premier League last season, of all right-backs aged 23 and under who made ten or more league starts, Dalot impressively ranked second to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in terms of average number of crosses into the box (5.04) per 90 minutes, illustrating his high output in the area.
Therefore, all of the above demonstrates that while Dalot may have fallen down the pecking order in terms of the right-back position, his all round skill set means United basically have appropriate cover in both the left and right back positions through the qualities of just one player.
There is also a solid case to play the 20-year-old in a more advanced attacking role next season, with regular right-sided attackers such Jesse Lingard doing little to stake a strong claim to be considered starters in the position next season.
This therefore could open the door for Dalot to secure regular game time in a more advanced role that could bring another dimension to United’s attack in the new season.