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Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Crystal Palace to Manchester United, £50m

Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined Crystal Palace’s academy at 11 years old, when he was considered a winger. Former manager Frank de Boer played with wing-backs during the pre-season of 2017/18, when Wan-Bissaka demonstrated his off-the-ball qualities, contributing to his conversion into so promising a full-back.

Injuries to multiple senior players meant he was awarded his debut in an unfortunate 1-0 defeat by Tottenham in February 2018. He retained his starting place for their next fixture against Manchester United and over the following weeks, eventually being named their player of the month. Throughout 2018/19, Wan-Bissaka became Palace’s senior right-back, featuring in 35 of their 38 Premier League fixtures and performing with such consistency that United paid what might amount to a total of £50m to make him what they hope will be their long-term right-back.

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Tactical analysis
Perhaps Wan-Bissaka’s greatest strength is his ability to defend one-on-one. The 21-year-old manipulates situations to dictate where the opposing attacker can move, generally tempting them towards the touchline to reduce their space before engaging and regaining possession when the attacker attempts to advance. He is similarly effective when the attacker has his back to him; Wan-Bissaka focuses on the ball and hooks his foot around the attacker to force possession away.

He also possesses impressive physicality for a still young defender. His pace and strength are such that, when he shows an opponent towards the touchline (below), their only option is to try to outrun him – but Wan-Bissaka has the speed to either keep up or be first to reach the ball.

Wan-Bissaka’s youth means that all areas of his game can improve, but United’s two priorities should be his productivity in possession and his tendency to go to ground when regaining it (below).

Consistently making slide tackles means consistently taking risks; quality or experienced opponents may be able to draw fouls, and by challenging by the touchline a throw-in will often be conceded when the better outcome is to regain possession. The defender also needs to then return to his feet, whether to then defend or attack. A better solution would be for him to step across the attacker and get his body in between the attacker and the ball, using his arms and hips to shield possession as he regains it, before then advancing possession.

He also needs to be more effective in the opposition half; Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson – albeit in a more ambitious team – respectively made 12 and 11 assists last season. Wan-Bissaka made three, which compares unfavourably with the six registered by Leicester right-back Ricardo Pereira and the five racked up by Wolves wing-back Matt Doherty.

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Role at new club
Comparisons have perhaps inevitably been drawn with Wilfried Zaha’s transfer from Palace to United in 2013, which proved a disappointment for both player and club. But there is a significant difference in the calibre of team United were in 2013 to today, and Zaha faced stronger competition for selection. Wan-Bissaka is instead expected to be made first-choice right-back over Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot, not least because of his potential.

He can therefore thrive through playing regular football in a stronger team than Palace, and also in the Europa League. For Wan-Bissaka to justify a regular starting place, and in the 4-3-3 system United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is expected to retain, he will also need to contribute to building the stability they have long lacked in defence.

Ahead of goalkeeper David de Gea, who will surely want to improve on his form of last season, Wan-Bissaka is likely to line up in a back four also featuring Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and perhaps a new central defender. Whoever that may end up being, United will hope their new right-back represents, at the very least, one small step in the right defensive direction.

Further up the pitch, Solskjaer’s desire to attack and entertain will mean his full-backs providing regular overlaps, and in Wan-Bissaka’s case combining with Jessie Lingard on the right.

United are also a team in transition, which presents him with the circumstances to truly establish himself and perform to the level demanded by the Old Trafford faithful. With Young advancing in years and Antonio Valencia now departed, he will need to.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

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