Manchester United’s visit to Madrid this week will forever be intertwined with the moment Anthony Elanga really made his mark on the senior side, but he was not the only player who made an important contribution from the bench.
For the second time in four days, Ralf Rangnick relied on his substitutes to swing a match back in United’s favour. For the second time in four days, his gamble paid off.
The introduction of Elanga with 15 minutes left of the match provided the pivotal moment at the Wanda Metropolitano, but it was a triple change nine minutes earlier that had given United a foothold back in the match by that point.
Nemanja Matic brought much-needed control to midfield by replacing Paul Pogba, Alex Telles provided an extra attacking threat when he came on for Luke Shaw, but, perhaps most importantly, Aaron Wan-Bissaka solidified the right side of defense after Victor Lindelof had struggled. in the role.
There can be no ignoring the struggles of Wan-Bissaka since he joined the club three years ago, but if we are going to discuss his obvious flaws, then it is only fair that we also highlight his moments of promise too.
His performance against Leeds last weekend practically summed up his entire United career.
The 24-year-old made some great recovery tackles to get him off the hook for being out of position in the first place. He finished the match with the most touches, the most tackles, the most passes and the most interceptions against Leeds at the weekend, but he also played a hospital pass to Bruno Fernandes for the Leeds equalizing goal and was well out of position when Rodrigo’s cross caught David de Gea off-guard.
In his midweek cameo, Wan-Bissaka showed further signs of confidence as he helped United take control of the match, and also showcased his expertise in recovering the ball when he won possession deep into added time and almost set up Jesse Lingard for a memorable winner. .
“When we had Aaron and Alex [Telles] on the pitch, we had more possession of the ball, we had more offensive actions, we had more assistance from the wings,” Rangnick said after the match, clearly impressed by the contribution of his much-maligned full-back pair.
The challenge now is for Wan-Bissaka to demonstrate such a high level of performance on a regular basis and prove he has what it takes to fulfill Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ballsy billing of him when he signed for £50million back in 2019.
“He has the right work ethic, talent and mentality to play for Manchester United,” Solskjaer stated after his unveiling. “He fits exactly the type of player that we are looking to bring into the squad to help us improve and push on further.”
In his first season, Wan-Bissaka monopolized the right-back role, but since then he has stagnated with little development, and is still some way off the standards set by the leading full-backs in the Premier League.
This is partly down to the fact that he has never had a regular right winger in front of him to strike a functioning partnership with, but ultimately, there can be no ignoring the immediate improvement still required for him to make it at the very top.
Had United been successful in their attempts to sign Kieran Trippier last summer, then Wan-Bissaka’s time at Old Trafford might already be as good as over. But having failed to do so, he remains just about alive.
The added competition brought by Diogo Dalot has made it made important that Wan-Bissaka enjoys a rapid resurgence on the pitch. And, after two important performances over the past week, the former Crystal Palace man is certainly not going down without a fight.
Wan-Bissaka certainly hasn’t done enough during his time at the club so far, but he might be on course to finally put things right.
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.