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Wan-Bissaka and Shaw out, Dalot and Telles in? Man Utd's misfiring full-backs facing fight to impress Rangnick

08:00 GMT 08/12/2021
Aaron Wan-Bissaka Manchester United 2021-22
The new manager at Old Trafford requires plenty of attacking output from his wide defenders, meaning there could be a changing of the guard on the way

Ralf Rangnick’s first game as Manchester United's interim manager could - given the circumstances - barely have gone better.

The German coach only managed one 45-minute training session with his players after meeting them for the first time on Friday, but Sunday's win over Crystal Palace provided clear signs that his ideas and philosophy were already being understood by the United squad.

The control that Rangnick had called for was there throughout as the Red Devils kept their first home clean sheet since April, while the high-press that many promised would accompany his arrival was evident, albeit not for the whole 90 minutes.

Having mostly played a 4-2-3-1 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Rangnick opted for a 4-2-2-2 formation, leading to a debate regarding which players will thrive and which will struggle in the new system.

For ex-United star Rio Ferdinand, two names stand out when it comes to the latter.

"I've got to be honest, [Aaron] Wan-Bissaka has got a hell of a job getting back in this team. The same for Luke Shaw,” Ferdinand said on his 5ive podcast. "They've both got one hell of a job.

"One thing this manager likes is full-backs who can actually play and get on the ball."

Rangnick's system requires his full-backs to push forward and provide the attacking threat from wide areas, especially when his attacking midfielders (on Sunday that was Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho) come inside to link the play.

Such tactics, of course, are not revolutionary, with modern full-backs expected to contribute to their side’s attacking play, but it is something that has not been as important at United in the past few years due to the formation they largely played under Solskjaer. 

“He’s not been asked to venture forward much earlier in his career,” the Norweigian said of Wan-Bissaka earlier this year. “Aaron has the time ahead of him and we’ll give him time. In a year or two, you’ll see a top, top full-back.”

Rangnick, however, does not have the time to wait, and though Wan-Bissaka is one of the best defensive full-backs in the Premier League - especially when faced with one-on-one situations - he struggles when tasked with delivering crosses into the penalty area.

One player who does have that attacking skillset, though, is the man who could be about to replace Wan-Bissaka long-term: Diogo Dalot.

The Portugal international has started back to back Premier League games for the first time since April 2019, and if he does not retain his place in the line-up against Young Boys on Wednesday, then that will be because he is being rested for what is a meaningless game, rather than dropped after two impressive displays.

Dalot played well when he replaced the injured Wan-Bissaka against Arsenal, but was even better against Palace.

His best moment came midway through the first half as he delivered a perfect cross into the box looking for the head of Cristiano Ronaldo. Though it did not result in a United goal, it was the sort of delivery that Wan-Bissaka does not have in his locker, and another ball into the box in the second half eventually led to Fred's long-range winner. 

Those close to Dalot have felt for some time that he is better going forward than Wan-Bissaka, but within the United dressing room the belief was that Solskjaer would not rotate from his favourite players, no matter their level of performance.

The Norwegian had players he preferred, and consequently Dalot, who had offers to go out on loan again in the summer after his successful spell at AC Milan in 2020-21, was limited to just two starts this season before Solskjaer’s sacking. 

Rangnick is now starting from scratch, and given Dalot's raw statistics - he averages more passes in the final third, more final third entries and more crosses than Wan-Bissaka per 90 minutes - he could well be the regular starting right-back going forward.

That would be vindication for Dalot, who has always vowed to fight for his place at Old Trafford. It will put pay to any potential loan move in January (Jose Mourinho's Roma are one of the clubs interested in such a deal), but the coming weeks and months present the 22-year-old with a chance to finally nail down a position in the United team in what is his fourth season at Old Trafford.

"There's no secret that it's difficult when you don’t play as much as you wanted,” Dalot said this week. “But it's our job to get ready, and I've been doing that for a couple months now, especially this season, being ready when my time comes to give everything on the pitch.

"Help the team, that's most important thing, and I'm very happy to have this momentum and be out there with the team."

Over on the left, Shaw certainly has more of a chance of keeping his place under Rangnick, though Alex Telles has impressed in the England international's absence this past week and too has the attacking instincts to be effective in United's new system.

After a superb season last term, Shaw endured a shaky start to the new campaign, and those struggles, coupled with Telles' form, could mean he too faces a spell on the sidelines if he cannot prove himself on the training pitch.

Gone, then, are the days of Solskjaer playing favourites at Manchester United. Rangnick is in charge now, and his idea of the ideal full-back could be about to give new leases of life to two forgotten men of the previous regime.