Manchester United

Time for Dalot to oust risk-averse Valencia

 • by Ryan Baldi
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Manchester United’s faltering start to the season continued with draw at Old Trafford against newly promoted Wolverhampton Wamderes in the new Premier League campaign’s sixth round of fixtures.

The 1-1 result saw the Red Devils drop points for the third time already at this early juncture. And, while United avoided the embarrassment of a third defeat, their inability to put weaker sides to the sword, particularly at home, is an ongoing bone of contention among fans and critics.

Indeed, even star man Paul Pogba admitted his frustration at the caution José Mourinho’s men continue to show. “I think teams are scared when they see Manchester United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake,” the Frenchman said after the Wolves draw.

“Maybe the attitude should be better and we should play better because, again, we are at Old Trafford and we should just attack and press like we did against Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal last season.”

There is no quick fix for United’s playing style, especially given Mourinho is a manager whose success has been built on pragmatism, rather than any desire to entertain.

The continual deployment of Antonio Valencia, the club captain, at right-back, though, is becoming an issue. One that should be remedied by the introduction of Diogo Dalot.

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It was no secret Mourinho had designs on adding winger to his squad over the summer. United have predominantly used a 4-3-3 formation this season, with the likes of Alexis Sánchez, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata in the wide positions, all players who prefer to work in central areas.

So, with the wingers cutting inside, it becomes vital for the full-backs to provide thrust, energy and ambition in attacking zones, less United’s play becomes predictable and relatively easy to defend against.

The rejuvenated Luke Shaw has managed this from the left side of defence, but Valencia appears increasingly risk-averse on the right.

In 90 minutes against Wolves, Valencia attempted just one cross; in his four outings so far this term, he has crossed accurately on just five occasions. Only 31.5 per cent of his passes this season have been played forward and he has entered the opposition’s penalty area just once.

What makes Valencia’s unwillingness to get forward all the more surprising is the fact he has spent most of his career as a winger, comfortable attacking the opposing full-back and looking to get deliveries into the box.

Now, though, battling persistent injuries which preclude him from playing twice in the same week, at 33, the Ecuadorian is unable to traverse up and down the touchline for 90 minutes, and instead opts to gird his natural attacking instincts in favour of ensuring he isn’t caught out defensively.

Ascribing to the ‘short blanket’ theory, it very much seems as though Valencia prefers to keep his feet warm.

Valencia’s increasing caution has been a pattern noticeable to observers of United for some time. Unlike previous seasons, though, the Red Devils now have a viable alternative.

Still only 19 years old and with only eight previous senior appearances to his name, Dalot, a £19million summer signing from Porto, impressed in his United debut against Young Boys in the Champions League, just days before the Wolves draw.

Displaying the kind of pace and dynamism that has long been absent from the Red Devils’ right flank, Dalot showed adventure and invention when getting forward to support the attack in United’s impressive 3-0 win.

In addition to two dribbles and four crosses he produced, the teenager’s penchant for a step-over recalled images of compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo’s time at Old Trafford.

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Defensivley, Dalot is raw and, ideally, he’d be partnered alongside of United’s more senior centre-backs to help guide him through his transition to life in the Premier League. But, while his ascension to regular first-team action may not have been planned for any time soon – or, indeed, this season at all – Dalot simply has more of what United need right now than Valencia.

This is a United side that has become too pedestrian and predictable. While they often enjoy a majority share of possession during matches, they tend to run out of ideas and into a brick wall in the attacking third, with a logjam of forwards drifting inside and wanting the ball to feet.

The burly, marauding Dalot, in tandem with Shaw, could go some way towards reawakening United’s once-feared forward line, adding impetus and threat from out wide.

It’s a sad state of affairs that side like United, for whom exhilarating wingers form a key tenet of the club’s historical success, are so bereft of genuine wide attackers that a teenage full-back could be positioned as the answer to their stagnant flanks.

Where once, the Old Trafford touchlines were worn with overuse, the dormant turf now flourishes, untroubled, the white sideline rarely scuffed.

But the role of the full-back in the modern game has evolved. They are often now the primary wide outlet of top sides, concerned more with matters of creativity and pace than rigid defensive lines and last-ditch tackles. Valencia can’t offer United such modernity, however; for that, Dalot is the man.

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