Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United have been near perfect under his managerial reign so far, with 10 games played under the Norwegian, the Red Devils have won nine and drawn one of those games in all competitions. Ever since the former Red Devil has taken charge of the side, their attack, in particular, has reaped the most fruit. The likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial have flourished under an attacking set-up. But that, unfortunately, doesn’t tell us the whole picture.
Though the Red Devils have scored 25 goals since the Interim Manager’s arrival in December, a lack of attacking output produced from the right side of the pitch is blocking this side from truly unlocking its attacking potential and threat as a whole unit. This analysis depicts the players who are capable of transforming this side with their direct attacking threat on the right flank.
The above picture shows the “action zone” of Manchester United’s attack in games. As we can see, it evidently shows that the team prefers to attack from the left and through the middle, rather than playing out wide from the right side as well. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management, the team has predominantly played Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata as the wide wingers from the right, but rather than producing the vintage “wing play” in games, the latter prefer to move out of the right side and play through the middle, effectively as number nines for the team.
What do the statistics say?
Here is a comparison between the stats of Lingard and Mata regarding this season:
As we can see from the above image, Jesse Lingard’s average position as a winger is not concrete. The blue dots above clearly show that the 26-year-old prefers to drift in the middle and start some creative play. His wing play rarely involves any movement down the flank, and when it does, he hardly produces any relevant output down the channel. We really cannot consider Lingard to be an out and out winger. Though his role is that of a winger, he surprisingly likes to pass around and link up down the middle, rather than a sprint with the ball and expose the spaces offered in the opposite flank.
Though Juan Mata has somewhat stuck to his position as a winger, his pace, physicality, and agility surely affect his adaptation to that role. Ever since Louis Van Gaal handed over the new responsibility to the 30-year-old in 2015, the Spaniard has hardly made any starts in his preferred position as a number 10, and it looks like he may well play as a winger for the remainder of this season too.
Jesse Lingard’s attributes in attack this season
Keep in mind that the data is more dominant towards the attacking aspect of these players. If you look at Jesse Lingard’s stats, there are two aspects which may seem very worrying at first glance. The essential element for a top winger is the ability to cross, and with just 27% of accurate crosses provided in a game, it is clear that his crossing ability is not good enough. His expected goal return(Xg) of 0.21 per game is also not that good when you compare it with other wingers in the league.
The other essential element for a winger is his ability to dribble past opposition in hostile channels. In the above picture, we can see that Lingard has a decent tally of 1.2progressive runs per game, but his dribble success rate of 58%is certainly not good enough for Man United standards. The Brit’s tenacity of drifting off his position affects the overall play down the right flank too.
Juan Mata’s attributes this season
Now, regarding Juan Mata’s stats down the right. As we can see straight away, Juan Mata’s tally of one progressive run per game is peanuts in front of other wingers in the Premier League, and his Xg (expected goals) of 0.26 is also not good enough for an out and out winger. Although there is nothing wrong with Juan Mata’s overall play, his lack of physical presence allows the opposition to bully him off the ball easily, and the lack of pace down the flank also somewhat reduces his threat as an opposition attacker.
The rumour mill
During the January transfer window, Manchester United was tipped to go “all out” for players and was rumored with several attackers, who were predominantly wide wingers. Top of that list included the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Steven Bergwijn.
Player profile: Nicolas Pepe
Nicolas Pepe plays as a right winger with Lille in France, where his attacking talent down the flank has turned heads all around Europe this season. He is currently third in the Ligue 1 scoring list at the moment (with 16 goals) and has also provided a decent tally of eight assists in the league as well.
In the above heat map, we can clearly see that the 23-year-old loves to stick down the right flank and create chances for the team.
Nicolas Pepe’s attributes this season
Now that we know that the Ivory Coast international loves to dribble, his attacking stats won’t let you disappointed. As the above stats suggest. The 23-year-old makes 2.2 progressive runs per 90 and also packs along a decent tally of eight dribbles per game.
His dribble success rate is not bad too, with a decent tally of 63% duel wins per 90, it clearly suggests that he is not afraid to take on defenders, and his blistering pace just increases his chances of beating his man/opposition. You may also notice the immense jump in his xG (expected goals of 0.54 per game), which also evidently suggests that when Pepe has the ball, there is some attacking play bound to happen.
Player profile: Steven Bergwijn
Steven Bergwijn is a Netherlands international, who predominantly plays as a winger for PSV Eindhoven. Just like Nicolas Pepe, Bergwijn too has risen to stardom this season, where he has scored nine goals and has provided 11 assists so far this season. Though the 21-year-old predominantly plays on the left, he is very much capable of switching positions and flourishes at either flank as well. His pace, combined with his physicality and agility in an attack, would surely benefit a Manchester United side which lacks a specialist winger down the right.
Steven Bergwijn’s attributes this season
The first thing that you should see while going over his stats is the number of touches he takes in the box. The 21-year-old averages an impressive tally of four touches in the box per game, which show’s that he is ever present down the opposition’s half, pouncing on any sort of a move in an attack.
He has a higher dribbling success rate (69%) than Pepe at the moment (63%), but the Ivory Coast international beats the Dutch in expected goals per game (Pepe has an xG of 0.54 to Bergwijn’s 0.28). Another advantageous point about Bergwijn is his ability to take on defenders and win duels against them as well. He has the best duel win % of all the mentioned players above, which also suggests that the defenders in the Premier League cannot bully the Dutch off the ball.
Yes, though these two players play in an “easier” environment when compared to the toughness of the Premier League, the attacking threat and potential possessed by these two individuals could make either one of them the next big revelation in the Premier League.
The point of this analysis is to depict the right candidates that are available at for Manchester United’s right wing position and their future permanent manager.
Yes, Manchester United do need one more winger down the right side, and yes, there are only a handful of players that fit in that spot. Though there are only a handful of right players to choose, Nicolas Pepe and Steven Bergwijn have earned the reputation gained around Europe at the right age, and at the right time too. Any player would love to play under an attacking Manchester United side in the future, and if you ask me, Nicolas Pepe seems to be the best option.
The Lille winger is a seasoned campaigner down the right side, but the same cannot be said about Bergwijn’s play. Though I mentioned the fact that he is more than capable of playing down the right side too, it would be a risky investment to do so, and when there is another option (Pepe) available for them, I would prefer for them to go all out on Nicolas Pepe and partner him with Jesse Lingard as Manchester United’s right-wingers.
With all that being said, if we talk about the financial aspect of the deal, Bergwijn would be the less expensive option of the two. The 21-year-old is reportedly available for 25 million euros in the summer, and Lille is hoping to rack up a hefty amount of above 50 million euros for their star man. Who will Manchester United end up buying in the end? Only time will tell.