Manchester United are known with their history of talented full-backs. From Denis Irwin, the Neville brothers, Patrice Evra, and the Da Silva twins. All of them produced terrors in both flanks even before the game started, credit to Sir Alex Ferguson‘s notorious wing-plays.
After Sir Alex’ retirement in May 2013, the decline in terms of quality in United’s full-backs can’t be denied. Managers from David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and even Jose Mourinho were unable to reignite United’s full-backs back to their golden age. Names like Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, and Luke Shaw were bought but none of them has been able to produce what their successors did. Even United’s managers had to transform late-Ferguson-era wingers, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, into permanent full-backs due to the lack of firepower in that area.
Earlier this season United were linked with names like Thomas Meunier (Paris St. Germain) and Serge Aurier (Tottenham) to solve the full-back problems. Instead, Mourinho, who was sacked recently, brought an almost unknown 19-year-old full-back from Porto that goes by the name of Diogo Dalot. Eyebrows were raised, online searches were deployed, and even video-games transfers were made in order to know this player more.
Who is Diogo Dalot?
Let’s have a look at Dalot’s profile
As we can see from the image above, Diogo Dalot is a full-back that can play in both flanks but favours the right-hand side. His offensive abilities allow him to play as a right midfielder at times. In the other side, he also has the defensive capabilities and versatility that enable him to play as a left full-back if needed.
This season, Dalot has appeared just in 10 games. Seven of them was in the league, where he started in five games. This happened because both of Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the current caretaker manager, prefers to play the veteran Young and Valencia ahead of him as a right full-back.
33-year-old Valencia was United’s main option at right back in previous seasons; this season the responsibility was given to Young, who is also aged 33. This happened because the series of injuries struck Valencia this season. Apart from that, Young also has great offensive abilities to cover the Ecuadorian at right back.
Somehow, this provoked a question: why did United buy a promising 19-year-old right-back but insisting to play 33-year-old veterans in his position week in week out? What’s the point?
Before making early judgments to that question, let’s take a look at the statistics. I believe it would be more logical to compare Dalot to Valencia and Young to see if his game match up to the current levels of United’s right back.
Dalot has a much lower number of average passes per game, with only 25.6, compared to Young’s 45.7 and Valencia’s 51.4. It shows that Dalot’s game is more direct than his seniors. Well, the directness of his game proved a bit inefficient because he could only make 72.1% of his passes successful; far lower than Valencia, who leads with 83.3% pass completion.
Another area that differs Dalot from Young and Valencia is his tendency to play less long balls. In the image above, we can see that Dalot only manages 0.7 long balls per game, far below Young’s 3.9 long balls per game, and even Valencia’s 2.2.
Dalot also has a lower amount of crosses per game, with only 0.9 crosses in average; Young leads this sector with 1.4. He also registered fewer key passes than Young and Valencia. With those numbers, we can see that Dalot lacks a creative edge compared to his seniors and definitely has not lived up to the expectations yet.
In the other side, as we can see, Young has played more matches than Valencia and Dalot combined. Even with 19 games under his belt, Young is able to produce two assists and one goal. Dalot, who has only played seven league games, made one assist. This shows that Dalot’s end-product is about the same level as Young but better than Valencia.
Dalot is still lacking in his ability to read the game compared to his teammates. He only manages 0.4 interceptions per game so far, while Young leads this sector with almost two interceptions per game; five times more than Dalot.
In the image above, we can see that Dalot is a defender who likes to stay in his feet rather than go into tackles. With only 1.1 tackles per game, compared to Young’s 1.4 and Valencia’s 1.6, I strongly believe this is a good trait for Dalot. By making fewer tackles it shows that Dalot has produced fewer errors compared to his seniors.
His good defensive ability is also supported by the fact that he only makes 0.7 fouls per game, much fewer than both Young and Valencia. Dalot is also very disciplined and definitely not an easy man to beat. The fact that he never gets dribbled past in all of his seven league games so far is the evidence. Young has the worst number in this area with 0.5 dribbled past per game; something that luckily he can cover with his offensive threats.
This summer, both Valencia and Young will reach the age of 34; not a proper age for a starting full-back in an elite club such as Manchester United. The increasing pace of the game surely will burn their legs out, even from the late part of this season.
With those numbers shown above, Dalot proves that he is a better defender than Young and Valencia. In the other side, Dalot still has to improve his offensive game to reach the level of his seniors. I feel that Dalot is a very promising full-back and surely a dream for any manager to coach him.
As we speak, Solskjaer is facing a dilemma: his squad is currently enjoying an undefeated streak but also carrying a burden to finish in the top four in order to guarantee a Champions League spot next season AND expected to get decent results in cup competitions. Playing unexperienced Dalot in tough fixtures, especially this February, is a huge risk for the caretaker to take.
I strongly believe that Dalot deserves more chance to show what he can do. With Valencia sidelined, Solskjaer definitely can’t rely on 33-year-old Young to play two games every week. Risking to play Dalot in domestic games this month is probably the only way Solskjaer can take because it’s almost impossible to play Dalot in big European nights, especially against the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.