Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were guaranteed starters at Manchester United at the start of the season.
That changed when Ralf Rangnick was appointed at Old Trafford on an interim basis in late November. Rangnick has provided AlexTelles and Diogo Dalot with more opportunities, and Shaw and Wan-Bissaka have had to wrestle with uncertainty at United.
That is conducive to improving standards at the club. It’s always healthy to have competition for places.
Shaw and Wan-Bissaka have also struggled with their own respective fitness concerns this term. Telles and Dalot have patiently waited to prove their worth and they’ve finally had that chance under Rangnick. While they’ve auditioned for a permanent place in the starting line-up, it’s fair to suggest that only one player has been successful. That’s Dalot on the right side of defence.
Dalot has been a breath of fresh air moving forward from right-back, whereas Telles hasn’t been as consistent with his performances and this has left the door open for Shaw to return to the starting XI, just like he did against Burnley on Tuesday night.
Rangnick was recently asked about the qualities he wants to see in his full-backs and his comments offered Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Telles and Dalot an insight into his mind. “They have to be both [attacking and defending],” Rannick said.
“They have to be defenders and at the same time give as much input as they possibly can when we’re in possession of the ball. They should be offensive full-backs, offensive defenders and I think in the last couple of weeks we have improved in those areas.
“With regard to our own full-backs, as I said, I’m happy with the development that all those players have taken. This is what I want to see, offensive full-backs playing almost like wingers and at the same to be modern defenders winning one-on-one duels.”
Rangnick’s comments were hardly surprising. I have described what every modern-day full-back should be able to offer. With Dalot seemingly having the edge over Wan-Bissaka, it’s interesting to compare Shaw and Telles with a view to the rest of the season.
That conversation truthfully shouldn’t have to exist. Shaw was the best left-back in the world last season, but his form has dropped this campaign and that brings Telles into the calculation as there should be no bias-the starting XI should be picked on form.
When analyzing the data, Shaw is superior to Telles in attack, which confirms the visual impression both players leave behind.
Shaw has averaged more successful dribbles and more successful attacking actions per 90 in the Premier League than Telles and he just marginally trails the Brazilian on shots on goal, which regards the only attacking metrics that Telles ranks ahead of Shaw on.
It is also interesting to compare Shaw and Telles defensively, as Rangnick wants his full-backs to be comfortable in both aspects of their game. Telles actually ranks better than Shaw on the majority of the defensive metrics, which adds intrigue to the debate.
The case could be made that Telles is better for United defensively, but it could also be argued that Shaw isn’t far off from Telles on those metrics while enduring a poor season, so when Shaw is at his best, he’s clearly the better choice at left-back.
United’s full-backs would have taken notice of Rangnick’s recent comments on what he wants from players in that position.
When considering those, it seems Rangnick will place his trust in Dalot and Shaw to regularly start this season.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.