FROM: Crystal Palace
TO: Manchester United
Position: Right Back
2018/19 PL Appearances: 35
Strengths: Judgement, tackling, positioning, interceptions, dribbling.
Weaknesses: Final third decision making, aerial crossing.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka earned promotion to the Crystal Palace first-team in the summer of 2017, under manager at the time Frank De Boer. He was given his first opportunity to demonstrate his ability during the 2017/18 pre-season, however, it was in February 2018 (now under Roy Hodgson) where his first chance to play Premier League football arose. In the 7 appearances he went on to make during the remainder of the 2017/18 season, Hodgson was clearly massively impressed with how he had adapted to the Premier League and by the start of the 2018/19 season, Wan-Bissaka had cemented himself as the first choice right-back. He went on to play 35 out of a possible 38 Premier League matches during 2018/19, missing 1 due to suspension and the other 2 because of a hamstring injury. Put simply, when Wan-Bissaka was available, Wan-Bissaka played and was a key figure in the Palace back 4, contributing immensely to their 12 clean sheets (6th best record in the league). His experience at international level currently remains minimal, having only made a total of 6 appearances for youth sides since 2015. However, with his big move to Manchester United in mind and his performance levels at the age of only 21, I am confident we will see him involved with the England first team in the not so distant future.
Analysis of Wan-Bissaka at Crystal Palace Last Season
Last season, Aaron Wan-Bissaka started every match he played at right-back, most commonly within a 4-4-2 ‘defensive block’ formation where his role involved primarily staying in a rigid line with the rest of his defence before pressurising opposition players in his defensive zone. During offensive play, he would sometimes overlap down the wing to provide the width for the team whilst the right midfielder (usually Andros Townsend) was cutting inside, but also regularly mixed up his attacks and instead would drive inside on the pitch with the ball to attack the midfield block of the opposition more directly.
Nowadays, full-backs that are good going forwards seem to reap all the praise, often for good reason as the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are absolutely key to Liverpool’s attacking play, contributing an astonishing 23 assists between them last season. Attacking ability often now seems be prioritised above defensive ability for a full-back, even for players far less remarkable than the Liverpool pair, but Wan-Bissaka’s incredible recent defensive performances have reminded the football world about how valuable an effective defensive full-back can be.
A key attribute of his defensive game involves his incredible judgement. He always seems to know exactly when it is right to stay on his feet and jockey and when he should try and either intercept or tackle (standing or slide). He more often than not positions himself to invite the attacker on the outside in a 1v1 position along the wing which successfully cuts out the infield options for the attacker. He will then wait for the right moment to dispossess his opponent and usually does so immaculately. If he does find himself caught out, his athleticism allows him to catch up with an opponent, meaning he rarely, if ever, finds himself in a position where a winger has taken the ball past him and he is sprinting in desperation to catch them up. He started his early career as a winger, so he has a strong understanding of what a winger is thinking in specific situations and uses this knowledge to his advantage when attempting to read the game and particular attacks from the opponent.
All of the recent praise he has been given is backed up by his truly fantastic stats from the 2018/19 season. Wan-Bissaka won 129 tackles, 1st for any defender across all of Europe’s top 5 leagues and 3rd across all positions in the Premier League. He also managed 84 interceptions (1st for Premier League defenders, 2nd across all positions), 129 clearances (joint first for Premier League full-backs with Ben Chilwell) and blocked 16 shots (1st for Premier League full-backs). His performance against the top 6 sides are additionally something that has alerted many of his ability, having won 23/25 tackles in total in away matches against Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd. It is clear why Manchester United, a team in desperate need to tighten up at the back, have pulled out a big cheque to secure the signature of the English defensive sensation.
However, an area of his game that will undoubtedly be worked on by the Manchester United coaching staff is his attacking. Having gained such a brilliant defensive reputation, people will always want to point the finger at something negative and with Wan-Bissaka, this seems to be his offensive play. As previously mentioned, he switches up his attacks, sometimes overlapping the wing and sometimes driving inside. He managed 90 total take-ons across the season with a success rate of 61%, 2nd only to Ricardo Pereira for both statistics. In comparison, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold managed 48 and 28 respectively, suggesting that the system Liverpool play allows them to receive the ball already in space rather than having to take players on to find it. Getting into attacking positions does not seem to be the issue, however, if he wants to develop as a complete full-back, his final third decision making will need to be improved. His passing/crossing can often be rushed and therefore not meet the desired target and he only managed to create 14 chances, ranking 35th among all Premier League defenders. New teammates Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot created 39 and 17 chances respectively, despite the latter playing 2,121 minutes less. In saying this however, Wan-Bissaka contributed 3 Premier League assists in comparison to Young and Dalot who both contributed 2, suggesting that he is more efficient with the chances he does create. Wan-Bissaka is yet to score at professional level, however, this is not a key responsibility for a full-back, especially for one who is so defensively astute.
His assists were recorded against Fulham (away), Burnley (away) and Bournemouth (home). The latter 2 came from low drilled crosses towards both the penalty spot and back post that were converted by Zaha and Batshuayi respectively. Most notable, was his assist against Fulham, where he controlled a long pass in the middle of his own half before being fouled, but managed to get up again straight away and utilise the advantage to drive infield and into the opposition half before playing Zaha in behind the defence who took it around the keeper and converted. These are clear flashes of attacking ability but there is undoubtedly a greater attacking potential to be developed in his game and if the Manchester United team can unlock this potential by improving his decision making and aerial crossing ability, they could have the perfect right-back in their hands in the near future.
How will Wan-Bissaka fit in at Manchester United?
As practically any Manchester United fan will tell you, Ashley Young should not be anywhere near a starting right-back spot for the Red Devils. Although he may be more devoted to the cross than Jesus, his defensive abilities have been under question for a long time and a more reliable option is ultimately required in the United backline. Cue Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who will become the new first choice Manchester United right-back. The timing of his transfer allows him a full pre-season to acclimatise to the new team and the methods of play and therefore, come the start of the season, I fully expect him to be starting the opening match against Chelsea and the majority of matches beyond that. Diogo Dalot will provide healthy competition as a promising young full-back himself and I think he will cut into Wan-Bissaka’s minutes across the season; however, I do fully expect the former Crystal Palace man to be the main starter. Manchester United conceded 54 goals last season in comparison to Liverpool’s 22 and Manchester City’s 23, so it is clear that Wan-Bissaka’s proven Premier League defensive ability is what he has been purchased for, as part of a mission to close the gap with the teams at the top and challenge for a top 4 position again. His young, English status also fits the Man United mould perfectly and this seems an ideal move for both club and player in their respective situations.
Is Wan-Bissaka a good option in Fantasy Premier League?
Manchester United conceded 54 goals in 38 Premier League matches last season, keeping just 7 clean sheets (notably less than Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Cardiff and Burnley). This statistic immediately seemingly makes the appeal of owning a Manchester United defender in fantasy football very low. However, Wan-Bissaka is exactly the sort of signing that will drastically improve this record and alongside a top-quality centre-back signing such as Dias or Maguire, we could see a massive shift back towards the days where we could rely on United for clean sheets. For me, this means not starting the season with Wan-Bissaka, as we can use the early stages of the league campaign to assess his game time, the improvement to United’s defence and to avoid some potentially tricky early fixtures that do not appear ideal to own a defender in. Not starting the season with the new United signing will not mean you are missing out on any particular attractive matches to own a defender as their first 9 matches include: Chelsea, Wolves, Leicester, Arsenal and Liverpool. United’s first favourable run of matches comes between Gameweek 10-14 where they face: Norwich, Bournemouth, Brighton, Sheffield United and Aston Villa. Additionally, they finish the season with a seemingly kind run, facing: Sheffield United, Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Southampton, Crystal Palace, West Ham before an away trip to Leicester on the final day of the season. Gone are the days of perfect £4.0m bench material, if you want to own Wan-Bissaka, he will now set you back £5.5m, removing his ‘benchable’ status.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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