Manchester United have been crying out for an attacking right-back for a few years. Antonio Valencia has been poor for a few years and offers scant little in attack. Matteo Darmian remains a solid defender but in the attacking third, he seems lost. Louis van Gaal’s decision to sell Rafael was a baffling one. Therefore, when Jose Mourinho decided to bring in a young full-back in the form of Diogo Dalot there was palpable excitement. Still pretty green in terms of first-team football, Dalot’s limited appearances for Porto showed a full-back who could cross. His start at Manchester United was stunted due to injuries but he showed enough in Europe against Young Boys. He made his full Premier League debut against Arsenal and looked nervous. But he was much more assured against Fulham at the weekend. The Portuguese did his job defensively and crossed a few inviting balls into the box, forward a different dimension to the attack. A closer tactical analysis of his performance will provide a glimpse into his future at Manchester United. Mourinho needs a creative outlet on the right and the statistics suggest Dalot could be the answer.
Let’s talk about Dalot’s defending
The trend in modern football has moved towards more attacking full-backs. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson at Liverpool are responsible for proving a real attacking thrust. Luke Shaw has been trying to do the same at Manchester United on the left. But the team have lacked the same kind of player on the right. Valencia, a former winger, sometimes doesn’t even try to put in a cross. Ashley Young tries hard but his crossing has been woeful. Therefore, when Dalot started to curl a few in against Fulham, it almost felt like gold dust.
But as a Manchester United full-back, you also need to defend. Dalot looked suspect against Arsenal but often managed to recover from tough situations. However, he looked very assured against Fulham. He kept a check on Ryan Sessegnon and pushed the Fulham attacker back with his forays up front. He won one of his tackles and made four clearances and defended his position astutely.
Fulham’s attack didn’t come into life before the second half. But the little Dalot had to do as a defender, he did them with a calming assurance. There are tougher challenges lying ahead. But the youngster has shown he is game for it.
Let’s talk about those crosses from Dalot
The stand-out feature of Dalot’s performance against Fulham was in attack. The 19-year-old showed adventure and ran at the opposition defence whenever an opportunity was presented. A few of his early crosses missed the mark but he kept at it and eventually found his radar. It was evident that some of the Manchester United attackers were not aware of how good he is when it comes to putting balls inside the box. As the game wore on a few of them made runs inside the box, expecting good service from Dalot.
The Portuguese played in a few delightful crosses and on any other day he could have bagged an assist. Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard – all of them pretty close to meeting one of those crosses from Dalot.
Four out of his eight crosses found their radar and two of his long balls found their target as well. He completed three key passes and completed the same number of dribbles. As an attacking full-back, it was a complete performance.
Dalot provided the much needed attacking threat from the right. Fulham were forced to keep more of an eye on him, opening up spaces for other attackers. Juan Mata especially found more joy as linked up well the Portuguese on the right.
Will Jose Mourinho trust him more?
Mourinho has been cautious about throwing Dalot into the deep end. If he had most of his players fit and available, the youngster might not have featured against Arsenal. But the Manchester United manager must be bolder and give more opportunities to his young compatriot. Manchester United’s attacking threat has mostly come from the left. The lack of options in the right has been glaring and Dalot gives opposition defenders something else to think about.
It would be a huge statement of confidence in the youngster’s talent if Dalot is thrown into the cauldron against Liverpool next weekend. Anfield is an intimidating atmosphere for even the thoroughbreds. If Mourinho is reluctant to play him against Jurgen Klopp’s side, it would be understandable. However, if Dalot is given an opportunity and he shines, one more option opens up for Manchester United.
Conventional wisdom suggests Mourinho will err on the side of caution and play Valencia or Young. But Dalot’s performance against Fulham has at least given the manager something to think about.
Manchester United’s decision to sign Dalot in the summer raised a few eyebrows. The youngster made his senior debut for Porto in just February. It seems the plan was to ease him into the side as a back-up to Valencia. But the Ecuadorian’s injury issues and form means, the Portuguese could soon become the first choice.
One of the advantages previous youngsters at Manchester United had was a successful team. It is always easier to throw in a young hopeful into a team working well. Manchester United are not that functional anymore so it’s doubly hard for a youngster to make a mark. It would be too much to ask if we demand consistency from Dalot. But the 19-year-old has shown glimpses of a bright future ahead. A lot will depend on how Mourinho (or the next manager) handles him in the next 12 to 18 months. But hey, we can all hope.
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