Aaron Wan-Bissaka completed his £50m move to Manchester United from Crystal Palace on Saturday (Picture: Getty)Following weeks of negotiations, Manchester United finally managed to land one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s top summer targets by securing the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace in a mammoth £50m deal.
The 21-year-old becomes United’s sixth-most expensive signing ever and is only the second Englishman to break the £50m barrier, quite incredibly following on from another right-back, Kyle Walker, who cost Manchester City £53m when moving from Spurs in 2017.
Surprisingly, given the sheer enormity of the transfer fee, Wan-Bissaka is still a relative novice in professional football terms as he has made only 46 first-team appearances and is yet to make a senior international appearance in his career thus far.
Consequently, United’s decision to part with a large chunk of their transfer budget on a right-back with just one full season behind them has been viewed by some to be a rather large risk, yet Solskjaer seems confident that Wan-Bissaka can solve the club’s long-running right back issue.
A special delivery for Ole! 🛩
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to #MUFC, @AWBissaka 🤝 pic.twitter.com/hHfSmL8JSu
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 29, 2019
‘Aaron is one of the best upcoming defenders in the Premier League. He has the right work ethic, talent and mentality to play for Manchester United and he fits exactly the type of player that we are looking to bring into the squad to help us improve and push on further,’ he said after Wan-Bissaka’s unveiling.
Although Wan-Bissaka’s fee will – somewhat unfairly – increase the pressure on him to perform straight away at Old Trafford next season, his statistics from the 2018-19 campaign underline why Solskjaer and his bosses felt that signing him was a gamble worth taking.
Speaking recently about his now former teammate, Crystal Palace winger and one-time United player Wilfried Zaha said of Wan-Bissaka: ‘I’ve played against a few decent right-backs, to be honest, and he’s one of them. You may go past him but he always manages to get a last-ditch tackle in.
‘I don’t understand how you go from a winger to a right-back though, because he’s so good at defending, but I think that’s his natural position.’
Former teammate Wilfried Zaha has been complimentary about Wan-Bissaka’s defensive qualities (Picture: Getty)With Eden Hazard having swapped the Premier League for La Liga following his dream move to Real Madrid, Zaha is now the Premier League’s undisputed dribble king which means his assessment of Wan-Bissaka’s one-on-one defensive qualities carries plenty of weight.
Wan-Bissaka’s appetite and aptitude for the defensive side of the game caught the eye pretty quickly after his emergence at Selhurst Park considering the majority of full-backs in the modern game are better going forward.
So good was Wan-Bissaka defensively, he actually won the most tackles of any defender in the Premier League with 129. Only Leicester City and Everton’s midfield enforcers Wilfred Ndidi and Idrissa Gueye respectively won more than he did.
What makes Wan-Bissaka’s tackle stats even more impressive, however, is that he only attempted 139 tackles in total, meaning he won a staggering 92.8% of his one-on-one duels. In total, only nine players got the better of him, with Manchester City’s Leroy Sane impressively doing so on two occasions.
Not only did Wan-Bissaka rank top for tackles won for a defender he did likewise with interceptions too, making 84 over his 35 Premier League appearances. Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue was the only player in the division to make more and only just too with 85.
Manchester City’s Leroy Sane was one of only ten players to successfully dribble past Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the Premier League last season (Picture: Getty)Clearly, United have signed a right-back capable of completely stifling his opponents out wide, either through nicking the ball off them with perfectly timed tackles or by being one step ahead and winning possession of the ball before they’ve had a chance to plot their next move.
However, in a more attack-minded team than Palace, Wan-Bissaka won’t be required to get through as much defensive work and instead, will have to play on the front foot a lot more. Although there are concerns about his ability to develop the attacking side of his game, Wan-Bissaka did show promise in that regard last term.
For years, United fans have deplored the unwillingness of their full-backs to try and take people on with Antonio Valencia, a former winger no less, showing scant desire to try and get around his opponents.
The Ecuadorian was a solid, rather than spectacular right-back, using his athleticism and power to charge up and down the pitch to provide an option out wide. In attacking terms, he was a one-trick pony, sending whipped deliveries into the box from the touchline.
In contrast, Wan-Bissaka showed last season that he is a natural with the ball at his feet. A former winger, the story goes that Wan-Bissaka was converted into a right-back after managing to keep Zaha quiet in a training session and never looked back.
Wan-Bissaka’s origins as an attacking player can be seen through his dribbling numbers last season, as he completed 61 of his 90 attempted take-ons last season, therefore succeeding in just over two of his three attempts on average.
Successful dribbles by PL defenders 18-19
Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)68Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)61Ben Chilwell (Leicester City)49Charlie Taylor (Burnley)41Arthur Masuaku (West Ham)36
That total secured him a place in the top-ten successful dribblers in the Premier League last season, behind the likes of Hazard, Zaha, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah. Only Leicester City’s Ricardo Pereira, himself a former wide midfielder, succeeded with more for a defender with 68.
Undoubtedly the biggest question mark surrounding Wan-Bissaka, though, is whether or not he possesses the requisite creativity for a full-back playing for a top-six side. He only created 14 chances in the league last season, as many as Tottenham’s target man substitute Fernando Llorente.
Nevertheless, the fact that three of those 14 chances created yielded assists, suggests that he has the ability to pick a pass for a teammate in the final third and that in a more adventurous side, he might be able to showcase that side of his game more regularly.
It is also worth considering that many of Palace’s attacks last season were launched down their left-hand side where the dangerous duo of Patrick van Aanholt and Zaha tended to be deployed, thus restricting Wan-Bissaka’s attacking involvement on the opposite side.
Wan-Bissaka registered three assists in the Premier League last season (Picture: Getty)Although there are legitimate concerns about Wan-Bissaka’s ability to contribute effectively towards United’s attacking play, he has an excellent base from which to build on having mastered the art of defending already and shown a propensity to attack space well with the ball at his feet.
Considering the strides that Wan-Bissaka has made in his fledgeling career to date, you wouldn’t put it past him to add another string to his bow by becoming an accomplished crosser of the ball too.
Should he achieve that, Wan-Bissaka would be the complete modern day full-back and might just make that £50m price tag look a bargain in a few years time.
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