On Wednesday day night, Manchester United fans were treated to two anomalies. A comfortable away win over Swiss opponents and a right-back who can actually beat a defender. A detailed and statistical analysis of Diogo Dalot and his performance will not throw up exciting statistics. However, there is evidence to suggest there is something in the kid.
Dalot did a lot of good things to earn the praise but his key attribute was that he was not Antonio Valencia. While the Ecuadorian has been solid over the years, his contribution in the attacking third has been pedestrian. The 19-year-old Portuguese provided glimpses of his talent and there was enough to feel excited about.
Jose Mourinho has already declared that his young compatriot could be Manchester United’s right-back for the next decade. So much for not trusting young talent.
Once Upon a Time in Berne
There was palpable excitement amongst the fans when the team-sheet was announced for the game against Young Boys. Manchester United supporters have not seen two actual (exciting) full-backs play in a game for a while. Luke Shaw was again impressive but the eyes were on Dalot. The Red Devils paid £19m in the summer for a player who made just eight senior appearances for Porto. The youngster had to be special, even in the current market.
And the Portuguese didn’t disappoint, at least on opening night.
He looked comfortable on the ball from the first minute and showed attacking intent. In the first 30 minutes, Dalot broke free on the right-hand channel three times and easily beat Young Boys left-back Loris Benito. Watching him display his pace and close control in the first half was a bit of a novelty for fans.
Dalot had 61 touches of the ball and his heat map suggests that his average position was at the half-way line. It becomes clear that he had the license to do damage in the attacking third. Mourinho has made a slight change over the last couple of weeks to allow the full-backs more freedom to bomb forward.
He put in one beautiful ball from the right, just inside the box but it was a touch too high for Romelu Lukaku and no one was attacking the back-post. However, his crossing was hit and miss and he completed only one of his four attempted crosses.
Defensively, Dalot looked solid and made one interception and six clearances during the game. He also showed the ability to dribble out of trouble and never looked suspect.
He once slipped on the artificial turf while tracking back, which could have resulted in a goal for the Young Boys. After that incident, the youngster became more conservative but continued to look the part.
Diogo Dalot Potentially Replacing Antonio Valencia
Valencia is expected to return to the starting eleven against Wolves on Saturday. However, the Ecuadorian could finally have a fight on his hands in terms of a threat to his place in the team.
Away from all the statistics and analysis of his performance, Dalot looked confident in a Manchester United shirt on Wednesday night. He also spoke impressively after the game, which is another sign of his confidence. The youngster has talked about giving Mourinho difficult decisions to make.
And the key for him is that it seems that the Manchester United manager likes the look of him. It seems unlikely that Dalot will be in the line-up against Wolves but a Premier League debut for him is not too far away.
Mourinho has tweaked his system since the defeat at Tottenham. The full-backs have the license to bomb forward to provide width. The slight change has also allowed the front three to play closer to each other.
Valencia’s ability or the lack of it in the final third could be a hindrance for Mourinho and his side. Dalot could possibly go on to replace the Ecuadorian in the team by the end of the season but not at the moment.
Despite all the excitement, it is key to point out Dalot has only made nine appearances in senior football. He remains raw and rough on the edges and will make mistakes. While he looks exciting, jettisoning him into being a regular at Old Trafford could potentially hinder his growth.
Mourinho is unlikely to throw him into the Premier League cauldron just yet. Dalot’s home could be the Champions League and the EFL Cup for the time being but his time will come in the league too.
The 19-year-old looks fresh, exciting and the kind of signing that Sir Alex Ferguson would have made. Watching him and Shaw bomb down the channels for the next ten years is surely an exciting prospect.
But Matteo Darmian is a cautionary tale. The Italian was impressive in his first few games as well. However, we soon realised that he is neither good enough nor has the ability to grow a proper beard.
Hopefully, Dalot is a better full-back and will go on to have nice facial hair.