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Who is Manchester United’s Best Right-Back Option?

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Jose Mourinho hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to life at Old Trafford and the Manchester United manager is reportedly already eyeing up his targets for this winter is order to push his club up the Premier League table.

Antonio Valencia has long been the club’s starting right-back, but with his broken arm and the Portuguese boss seemingly reluctant to use Matteo Darmian in his natural role, a handful of full-backs have been linked with a move to the Manchester giants.

“The coach has to make his decisions and we players have to accept them,” the Italian told Rai Sport after the friendly with Germany. “I always worked hard and gave my best when called upon and I’ll continue to do that. I certainly don’t lack determination and that is fundamental, especially during a period where you don’t play as much.”

In Mourinho’s formation, regardless of who plays in front, width has always come from the wide defenders. Paulo Ferreira made a career out of following the Portuguese coach from FC Porto to Chelsea, even Branislav Ivanovic was made to field a more attacking role at Stamford Bridge under Jose.

Recently against Swansea, in one of Darmian’s two Premier League appearances this campaign, he played on the left and Ashley Young was preferred on the right. Both players push on and their average positions were around the same, just over the half-way line, but it instantly limits the Italians attacking productivity.

Early in the fixture against the Swans, Darmian was quickly found in acres of space, but he had to cut inside onto his right-foot and the cross was easily blocked. Offer him the same time on the opposite flank and you need to get much tighter.

Valencia when he plays pushes further forward, about 10 yards on average. He is naturally a right-winger, there is no hiding that and you can see that instinct in his game.

He’s not a defender and the Ecuadorian relies on his pace to recover.

Against Manchester City in the EFL Cup, he was caught out of position and even seems to lack to awareness to quickly realise what was going on – turning in the wrong direction – but his blistering speed allowed him to get back and make the tackle. However, that quickness can have its downside. Eager to jump in and intercept, with 25 minutes on the clock, he saw a chance to make a move, leaping into a tackle on Fernando and massively missed, fouling where it would have been easier and smarter to hold his position. The former Wigan man was shown a yellow card for his efforts. Going forward, Valencia is still an excellent option, but a team of Manchester United’s calibre need someone that is capable at both ends. Albanian and Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj is the latest to be linked with a move to the Premier League club, at to that the rumours that United watched Paris Saint-Germain’s Serge Aurier against France and long-time target, Fabinho, at AS Monaco and you have a stellar line-up of full-backs that could be tempted to join Mourinho’s revolution. However, are any of them an upgrade on what the former Real Madrid coach already has at Old Trafford. Statistically, Brazilian Fabinho makes more tackles than any of the others, and that’s either playing on the right of the defence or as a central midfielder. Since bursting on the scene on loan from Rio Ave, the 23-year-old has been converted to an all-action central midfielder. However, the player has mentioned his preference of playing at the back. Looking at his numbers during the 2015/16 season, he still measures up impressively, with 3.2 tackles per game, 2.2 interceptions and 0.6 crosses made. He added four assists too, something the others can’t match. Fabinho has the defensive awareness to cover, that he helped him adapt massively to his new role, but he is an asset in the final third. The one-time Real Madrid player doesn’t delay when he gets in a crossing position. When he gets in possession, the ball is played into the box either first-time or with a single touch to get it under control.

What Fabinho is capable of producing is quick and constant service into the box. The type of deliveries that someone like Zlatan Ibrahimović has built his career on. Serge Aurier is a similar type of right-back. Perhaps a little stronger and a little faster. He is the best crosser of a ball out of all the defenders mentioned.

What the former Toulouse defender does very well is use the players around him in attack. Waiting for support, he draws on the run of his teammates and as soon as he gets a half yard, a dangerous ball is played into the box. When the support doesn’t come, he has the pace and power to get around most of his markers.

On the other side of the ball, when he keeps his head and stays on his feet, he is very difficult to get past. Still young, he is guilty of diving in when it isn’t needed, picking up unnecessary yellow cards, but that is improving year after year.

Making 2.4 tackles per game, he also averages 2.1 interceptions, and outside of Valencia, no one makes more key passes than the Ivorian.

As pure defenders go, Darmian looks like he is the best option Mourinho has. Even though he played left-back against Germany during the international break, on a few occasions, he showed his intelligence and awareness to cut out the danger.

The former Torino player is a more natural defender than Valencia and doesn’t have to rely on pure pace to recover. That is very similar to Napoli’s Hysaj. A really solid defender, he is strong in the tackle, but with just 1.5 made per game, his strongest point is staying on his feet.

Hysaj is very good at tracking a run down the wings, keeping the attacker tight, staying tight and waiting for them to make a mistake. Unlike Aurier, he doesn’t dive in, which shows his maturity and experience, although he is only 22 years old.

The Albanian’s crossing leaves a lot to be desired and could be described as functional rather than productive.

Who the best option is, depends on what Mourinho wants. Aurier is probably the most natural progression from Valencia. He offers the same attacking threat, has the pace to recover, but is an upgrade defensively. He can also play as a wing-back and a centre-back.

Fabinho gives the Portuguese boss the option to play him in the midfield if needed and has already shown in the Champions League that he has what it takes to step up.

Napoli’s full-back is the best pure defender out of the three options, but it would take away the attacking threat from that side of the pitch. Darmian is a good defender, but is much more suited to playing on the right. Versatility may be his down fall, especially if Mourinho isn’t convinced by Luke Shaw on the left.

That would suggest that a right-back is needed, if the rumours that United were in Lens to watch Aurier are true, he is definitely the best all-rounder and the one defender here with the most chance of becoming truly world-class.

Due to his behavioural problems in Paris over the last 12 months, a decent offer of around £20-25 million could convince the Ligue 1 champions to sell. That could be a deal breaker.

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