COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
One of the interesting things about Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s development at Crystal Palace is how it's shown just how much a few months can transform a footballer's career.
Injuries to a few first-teamers before a home game against cross-town rivals Tottenham Hotspur in late February forced Roy Hodgson’s hand to throw the inexperienced youngster into the fray.
Spurs won the aforementioned game by a lone goal, but the debutant "coped extremely well" according to the former England boss.
For a player who’d been playing as a winger for the reserve side, and had no prior experience playing in defence, he took to his role at right-back like a duck to water.
Predictably, the converted full-back was rewarded with a new contract in April following his bright performances as the Eagles sought to keep hold of their prized asset.
He’s subsequently picked up where he left off last season, won the club’s Player of the Month award for August, and has been one of the positives in an otherwise gloomy season for the Eagles which has them stuck in the lower reaches of the table.
True to form, his emergence has birthed rumors of a transfer to one of the Premier League’s top sides, but how does he compare against players he’s either expected to compete with for a place in the side or to understudy?
20 - Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the youngest Crystal Palace player to be shown a red card in the Premier League (20 years, 267 days). Dismissed. pic.twitter.com/RZOsYqCeBP— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 20, 2018
The wideman gets lauded for his defensive work, specificlly successful tackles, clearances, blocks, interceptions and duels won, and for good reason.
When compared to the top starting right-backs, he comes out by far on top, trumping Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Cesar Azpilicueta and Hector Bellerin. In truth, his superior numbers are somewhat expected owing to his team’s tendency to have their backs to the wall, unlike the big boys.
Unsurprisingly though, he falls short against the quintet in attack and team play, failing to match some of their numbers in big chances created, assists, passes, through balls, as well as crosses.
A rebuttal opinion could focus on the fact Palace are in fewer attacking scenarios than the big sides, so it’s hard to truly compare. However, it should be noted that the Eagles’ right-back trumps Alexander-Arnold and Bellerin in the amount of forward passes played, while creating more big chances than Walker.
The fact the Hodgson’s side attack mainly down the left flank diminishes the young ace’s return, but the winger in him does come out from time to time, which allows him show glimpses of his quality going forward, proving the multi-faced nature of his game.
This was apparent in the 2-0 derby win over Fulham on opening day, when the young full-back drove forward from halfway inside his half, dribbled past Ryan Sessegnon with ease before producing a well-weighted pass to play in Wilfried Zaha who coolly slotted the ball past Fabri.
While that matchday one assist is the only time the quick full-back has been directly involved in a goal this season, he was terribly unlucky not to make it two in their unexpected 3-2 win at City, when Andros Townsend could only hit the post from his cross after good work down the right to beat Fabian Delph. The away side did win a penalty moments later, so the miss didn’t prove costly in the end.
Still only 21 and at an age where he needs to feature consistently, it remains to be seen just how much game time Wan-Bissaka will get at the reputable sides.
He probably won’t be first-choice at the Reds with Alexander-Arnold the incumbent, would struggle to usurp Walker and Trippier at City and Tottenham respectively, and the same could be said for the pair of Azpilicueta and Bellerin.
While a case may be made for a move to United, who have chopped and changed in that position all season, the managerial uncertainty makes a move there unlikely.
That leaves Wan-Bissaka probably not being more than an understudy at the top five teams in the league, which may stunt his progress.
Palace will be aware of the growing interest in their prized asset and will know it’s only a matter time before he's poached. For Wan-Bissaka, all he has to do is keep up his development as Selhurst Park if he wants to realise every player’s dream of contending for and winning titles.
And as things stand, he’s certainly on the right track.