In modern football, it is a rarity for a player to be a relative unknown; YouTube and the availability of most of the major European leagues on TV have made it almost impossible for a rising young player to remain unnoticed. In that context, Manchester United’s second signing of this window has been like a breath of fresh air. Most United fans would have never heard of Jose Diogo Dalot Teixeira before he was linked to the club, and even after his £19 million transfer was completed, there remained an air of mystery around him. Football fans, like almost everyone else, abhor the unknown; however, in this case, Dalot may just prove these fears wrong, for he looks well-suited to both United and Jose Mourinho.
Dalot began his career at Portuguese giants Porto, making his debut for the B team as recently as January 2017, and only making his senior debut in October 2017. The Portuguese can play at both left-back and right-back; in fact, he was impressive at left-back in Porto’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, shackling Sadio Mane quite effectively. He made a name for himself in Portugal’s age-group sides, winning the 2016 UEFA U-17 Championship, where he scored two goals in the final. That same year, he was part of the Portuguese squad for the U-19 Euros as well, where they lost in the semi-finals, and went one better in the same tournament the following year, as Portugal lost to England in the final. Dalot also played at the 2017 U-20 World Cup, where Portugal lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals. Evidently, the youngster has a lot of tournament experience even at the age of 19, which will be immensely valuable in dealing with the pressure that comes with playing for Manchester United. We take a look now at what the young full-back excels at, and how he can fit into United’s team.
The small sample size makes comparisons tricky – Dalot played only six league games for Porto last season, while United’s current first-choice full-backs, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young played 31 and 29 times in the Premier League respectively. However, if we do look at the numbers, Dalot manages to hold his own against the experienced duo. He averaged 1.5 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Portuguese Liga, actually marginally beating Valencia who managed 1.49/90; while Young racked up 2.03/90. The Portuguese is a strong, physical defender who prefers to get tight to his opposition and use his strength to manoeuvre the ball away, rather than sitting off and blocking passing options. This is reflected by his numbers for interceptions as well as tackles.
Nevertheless, he can stand off opponents and his body positioning is generally good when he looks to block a pass rather than nick the ball, as demonstrated below:
This is one of the strongest parts of Dalot’s game. He averaged 1.5 successful tackles every 90 minutes in the league last season, winning 83% of his total tackles, both of which are significant improvements over Valencia (1.06, 33%) and Young (0.96, 28%). As mentioned previously, Dalot is a proactive defender, who looks to get close to opponents and use the tackle to regain possession; his physical attributes help him immensely in that regard, and as a 19-year old, this can only improve as time goes on.
Another strong facet of his defensive game is his positioning. Having played regularly on both flanks, Dalot’s positional sense is usually impeccable, as he recognizes when to push up and when to drop off on opponents. The following graphics will illustrate how his positioning evolves against different kinds of opponents.
Dalot is 184 cm (6 ft) tall, which fits Jose Mourinho’s template for his defenders as tall, strong and athletic. Even though he is a full-back by trade, Dalot is excellent in the air, and one specific scenario where opposition goalkeepers look to play long balls towards the flanks will not work against him, as he has regularly demonstrated his ability to nip ahead of attackers and win the ball in the air. The stats bear this out too: Dalot won almost 65% of his aerial duels last season, comfortably beating both Valencia (46%) and Young (50%). This facet of his game also allows him to be an effective part of a narrow backline if needed, a staple Mourinho tactic in the closing stages of games.
Like every other full-back in modern football, Dalot’s attacking contribution is arguably as important as his defensive role, and here too, he manages to stand up to his more established teammates. Dalot made 0.7 key passes per 90 minutes in the league last season, at par with Valencia (0.71) and Young (0.72); however, his pass completion rate was significantly lower at 73%, compared with 85% and 80% for Valencia and Young respectively. Dalot is adept at getting forward to support attacking moves and possesses a fairly accurate cross, which should be a blessing for the likes of Romelu Lukaku. His take-on numbers are comparable to those of United’s veteran full-back duo: a 54% success rate compared to Valencia’s 60% and Young’s 57%. One potential weakness, along with his slightly average possession numbers, is that Dalot is predominantly right-footed. While this is not a problem when fielded on the right, he does have a tendency to cut back onto his right foot when deployed on the left, a lot like Young does currently, which can deprive the side of width and makes him a little more predictable on that side. Nevertheless, it is a minor blemish on a solid set of attributes, and he has time on his side to improve.
It looks like Diogo Dalot will be United’s reserve full-back this season, deputising for Valencia and possibly for Young on the opposite flank if needed. His style of play makes him quite similar to Matteo Darmian, who will almost certainly be leaving the club by the end of this transfer window. Dalot should be an effective replacement, and his age means that he could be Valencia’s successor and stay at the club for the next 10 to 15 years if managed correctly. Fans should rightly be intrigued by this signing, and Dalot has the potential to solve a problem position for United for years to come.