Thursday 20 January 2022

Diogo Dalot emerges from the shadows to become a revelation

As Roman poet Titus Carus once said: one man's meat is another man's poison and that certainly rings true for Diogo Dalot.

No one has benefited more from Ralf Rangnick's arrival at Old Trafford than the Portuguese right-back - now indisputably first choice as a key component of Ragnick's Red revival. 
As soon as the incoming German boss spoke of his vision for United - the high pressing, high energy, attacking style he wanted to implement - you knew Aaron Wan - Bissaka's days as the Reds erstwhile undroppable full-back were over. We may have spent 50m on Wan - Bissaka back in 2019 but he immediately seemed to be at odds with the Rangnick raison d'etre. 

Having been the man to sign him, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt he couldn't dispense with the former Crystal Palace player and his defensive ability and agility suited the Solskjaer counter attack well. 'AWB' was never asked to push forward and diligently held back to stop opposition attacks and ensure United recycled the ball.
Solskjaer was so fixated on Wan - Bissaka, he loaned Dalot out to Italy where he linked up with Milan and even featured against his parent club when he started the first game at Old Trafford and then came off the bench in the second leg at the San Siro as the clubs met in the Europa League.

His time in Serie A proved enough for Dalot to earn a call up to the Portugal national squad for the delayed European Championships, alongside United team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. 
Whilst there has been much discussion over the cohesion of the latter two men at United, a string of fine performances from their less heralded compatriot have gone under the radar. 

Dalot has been nothing short of a revelation from the moment he replaced the injured Wan - Bissaka in the XI for Michael Carrick's last game in caretaker charge against Arsenal. Dalot was one of the best players on the pitch and it was from his sweeping cross-field ball Cristiano Ronaldo put us ahead for the second time. His attacking thrust and intelligent use of the ball - hitherto conspicuous by its absence - are assets Wan - Bissaka just doesn't, or can't, offer.
On his 50th game in Red, he was superb again at Brenford and was the best player on the pitch, once more, for my money. Dalot was quick, he was strong, excelled both going forward and defensively and was immense in dealing with what, at times, represented an aerial bombardment from Brentford. It has taken Dalot four years to clock up his half century of appearances mainly due to injuries and then, simply, because Solskjaer didn't believe in him. 

Dalot made 16 ball recoveries, more than anyone else, and won four aerial duels. He won three tackles, five interceptions and seven clearances, and almost scored in the first half with a shot from distance. Dalot earned BT Sport's Man of the Match award and has finally made the right-back position his own. Wan - Bissaka missed the tie through illness and, on this evidence, faces a real battle to get back into the side. 
Wan - Bissaka has not kicked on - in fact you could argue he's regressed - but Dalot is still only 22, he's still learning but has shown resilience and self belief as our best current option. 

On the other flank, Alex Telles has also excelled in Rangnick's high octane system having usurped the previously impenetrable Luke Shaw at left-back. The German's preferred style suits both full-backs to a T. He favours attack minded, forward thinking full-backs in his 4-2-2-2 system and that spells bad news for Wan - Bissaka, whom as we know is (very) limited as an attacking threat. Whilst there is no doubting the 24 year old's ability as probably the finest out and out defensive full-back in the league, he is limited going forward. AWB has, in fairness, tried to adapt his natural game, but it's clear anything over the halfway line pushes him out of his comfort zone. 

As is the case with all players, a continued run in the side has clearly helped him. Solskjaer would put him in for an odd game simply to give Wan - Bissaka the odd rest, and then - when he struggled - he would be out of side for weeks. 

Dalot has been central to Rangnick's tenure at United so far. Primarily, the interim manager wants him to offer width and an outlet in an otherwise narrow set up which forces play up the middle of the pitch. Perhaps more than any other tactical element, the full-back positions have been where the greatest transition from the Solskjaer era to the Rangnick identikit can be seen. 

With the revered German at the wheel, United needed more thrust and dynamism from their full-backs on both wings. Luke Shaw and Telles both naturally bring that to the table, and in fact may even flourish now they have more license to get forward, as does Dalot whose natural game is to attack. 

Wan - Bissaka will almost certainly be given a chance to prove himself to Rangnick between now and May, but the pressure is on. If he doesn't adapt - if he doesn't absorb his new manager's ideas and methodology - his United future will be in jeopardy. 

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