Going on the social media reaction of many Manchester United players when the news was confirmed, there is a lot of excitement within the Old Trafford dressing room over the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the club. However, the Portuguese’s signing could be bad news for one United player, Aaron-Wan-Bissaka.
Wan-Bissaka is widely considered one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League. Indeed, the 23-year-old is nicknamed ‘The Spider’ due to his ranginess – at times it’s as if he has eight limbs. Raheem Sterling, Sadio Mane and even Neymar have also endured difficult games against Wan-Bissaka.
As an attacking force, though, Wan-Bissaka is limited. The 23-year-old has worked on the attacking side of his game since making the £50m switch to Old Trafford from Crystal Palace two summers ago but striding forward, as full backs are expected to do in the modern game, still isn’t natural to him.
The signing of Jadon Sancho looked to have been made with Wan-Bissaka’s limitations in mind, with the England international a more natural winger than Mason Greenwood. Sancho will give Manchester United genuine width and creativity on the right side and will mask some of Wan-Bissaka’s shortcomings.
However, United will need productivity from both Sancho and Wan-Bissaka on the right wing to facilitate Ronaldo as their new centre forward. The 36-year-old is particularly strong in the air (as the Republic of Ireland discovered to their cost last week) and will need good service from his teammates.
Ronaldo will no concerns over Luke Shaw, who has taken his game to another level over the last 12 months or so. The 26-year-old averages 1.3 crosses per game and now has the fitness levels to break through the lines of transition – it’s now common to see Shaw at the byline having overlapped whoever is playing ahead of him.
By contrast, though, Wan-Bissaka averages just 0.7 crosses and 0.7 key passes per game. The 23-year-old is making more of an effort to overlap and make it to the byline, but he frequently passes the ball inside to a teammate rather than delivering a cross himself. This allows opposition defences a chance to reset and organise.
All this hints at why Manchester United explored signing Kieran Trippier, an attack-minded right back with one of the best, most consistent deliveries in the game. With the 30-year-old into the final year of his contract at Atletico Madrid, the Old Trafford club reportedly felt a cut-price deal could be done. Atleti weren’t willing to sell, though.
As a consequence of this, Diogo Dalot was kept at United despite interest from AC Milan. The 22-year-old full back impressed on loan at the San Siro last season, even forcing his way into the Portugal squad for Euro 2020, and could find himself in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team if Wan-Bissaka doesn’t perform as required.
The surprise return of Ronaldo to Old Trafford has changed the dynamic in a number of different ways for United. Not only are Solskjaer’s side now expected to at least challenge for the Premier League title, many of Ronaldo’s new teammates will have to raise their game. That’s partly why the 36-year-old has been signed – to set a new standard within the dressing room.
Wan-Bissaka has already faced some questions over his attacking output and this is only likely to intensify now that he has one of the greatest goalscorers of all-time as a teammate. Manchester United need a system to harness Ronaldo, to get the best out of their investment. Wan-Bissaka must prove he can be a part of that system.
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