It’s fair to say not many viewers think Manchester United deserved to beat Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
Aside from Bruno Fernandes scoring a penalty after the initial full-time whistle, the Red Devils were largely outplayed and outfought by Brighton, who hit the woodwork a record five times and still contrived to lose 3-2.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka had a more difficult game than most. It was his error that led to Neal Maupay opening the scoring from the penalty spot and he was nowhere to be found when Solly March scored in the 94th minute to make it 2-2.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was keen to deflect the blame away from Wan-Bissaka, saying United need to do more collectively to prevent crosses, adding: “Every player in this league has got strengths and weaknesses. We all know Aaron’s strengths. One of his strengths is he wants to learn and wants to improve.”
And yet, the criticism of Wan-Bissaka has been building quietly in 2020. Unquestionably a good one-on-one defender, the £50million signing from Crystal Palace has been questioned over what he does when he actually has the ball at his feet, both in his own half and the opposition’s.
But is this criticism justified? As United prepare to face Brighton again in the EFL Cup, we delve into the Opta data to find out.
ALL FOR WAN, WAN FOR ALL
Simply put, United have been better at defending since Wan-Bissaka’s arrival.
His fee was sizeable for a player with just two seasons of senior football behind him, but United were desperate for a specialised right-back after years of using converted wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. Wan-Bissaka was an investment for the present and the future.
His impact – and that of Harry Maguire, of course – was immediate. Having conceded 54 goals in the Premier League in 2018-19, United let in just 36 last term, the best record after Liverpool and Manchester City. Their clean sheet tally jumped from seven to 13 and they faced 389 shots compared to 496 the season before.
Wan-Bissaka missed just three league games last season, against Arsenal, Newcastle United and Burnley, and United only won one of those (Burnley away).
— Aaron Wan-Bissaka (@awbissaka) January 11, 2020
A WINGER’S NIGHTMARE…
We all know Wan-Bissaka loves a tackle – and he’s good at them, too.
Since his United debut, no Premier League defender has attempted (132) or won (83) more tackles than him. His success rate in challenges is a more modest 62.9 per cent, but that’s still superior to Kyle Walker (61.3), Ben Chilwell (60.5) and Andy Robertson (58.9) over the same period.
He has won back possession 183 times for United in the league and only been dribbled past 24 times, committing 23 fouls (interestingly, his much-maligned team-mate Victor Lindelof has been dribbled past three times in the same period, the joint-best record in the whole division for a defender).
Similarly, Wan-Bissaka has won 231 duels for the Red Devils, the ninth-best tally among defenders since the start of last season, which gives him an average success rate of 59.5 per cent – not outstanding, but comfortably within the top half of defenders to play at least 20 times since the start of 2019-20.
10 – Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made 10 or more tackles in a Premier League game twice this season (11 today vs Norwich & 10 vs Southampton); prior to this, no Man Utd player had done so since May 2012 (Patrice Evra vs Swansea). Lockdown. pic.twitter.com/YPdN04u60w
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 27, 2019
…BUT A NIGHTMARE WINGER?
Winning the ball back comes easy to Wan-Bissaka, then – but what about using it?
Possessional passing is a problem, for one thing. Since the start of 2019-20, he has averaged an 80.4 per cent completion rate on passes in his own half. Only 14 defenders to play in at least 20 games in that period have a lower number.
Interestingly, his passing accuracy rate jumps to 82 per cent in the opposition half – the ninth highest in the league for defenders – and he is sixth for success rate for passes ending in the final third (78.9 per cent).
Wan-Bissaka is also far better running at players than perception suggests. Since the start of 2019-20, he has completed 54 dribbles – the third highest for a defender – at a success rate of just under 60 per cent.
However, it’s how he uses the space he creates for himself that is a cause for concern at times. For a player with such high completed dribble numbers, 14 completed crosses is a poor return. In fact, his success rate of 13.59 per cent is the worst of any defender to complete at least eight crosses since the start of last season.
It follows that he has created only 25 chances in that time, fewer than Matt Targett and Ryan Fredericks, and has just four assists – one more than he managed in 42 league games for Palace, but well behind league leader Alexander-Arnold on 14 since August 2019.
Solskjaer sees in Wan-Bissaka a player who is keen to learn, and he has already improved in his relatively short time at Old Trafford. He is certainly a more rounded full-back than some might think, but there is a long way to go before he reaches an elite all-round level.
4 – Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s assist for Mason Greenwood’s opener was his fourth in the @premierleague for Manchester United (29th app); one more than he provided in 42 league games for former club Crystal Palace. Fantastic. pic.twitter.com/4VsK884YBK
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 30, 2020