Down The Wings

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Does signing Cristiano Ronaldo change the full-back dynamic for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw are currently Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s go-to full backs. (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford – an arrival that not even the club were expecting this time last week- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer surely has to adapt his system and personnel to accommodate the new No.7, which could see Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles have a big part to play in the 2021/22 campaign.

Many Reds fans will often reminisce about Ronaldo’s explosive dribbling ability in a United shirt 15 years ago; the ability to beat a man and shoot towards goal was shown every week by the Portuguese superstar and this was simply second nature to him. 15 years later, having won four Champions League titles and a further 18 club titles since, Ronaldo is no longer that same player with dynamite in his feet down the wings. Exceptional physical shape and wellbeing have enabled the former Madrid man to adapt his game throughout his career to become a central striker in the mould of a target man in recent years. 552 club goals since his departure from Old Trafford prove that this adaptation has been nothing short of a success.

In the midst of an exciting week for United, many fans have raised a credible concern that Solskjaer must take on board- how can Ronaldo be breaking records in a team that has proven to be unable to create more than five or six good chances a month for its striker in a 4-2-3-1 system? Whether it be Edison Cavani, Mason Greenwood, or Anthony Martial leading the line for the Red Devils, all have been deprived of consistent service in the box during the Norwegian’s tenure in charge. A Paul Pogba masterclass against Leeds saw him rack up 4 assists, a game where chance creation was no problem at all. Since then, fans will struggle to remember a golden opportunity to score in the games against Southampton and Wolves that followed. Fortunately for Solskjaer, Greenwood has looked sharp and has delivered the points for his side.

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Assuming Ronaldo slots into the striking role, the manager absolutely has to find a way to create chances for a player that many would argue is the greatest to ever play the game. The situation presents a fantastic opportunity to experiment with benchwarmers Alex Telles and Diogo Dalot. Following his arrival in the Summer of 2020, Telles’ first-team chances have been limited to cup matches due to the sheer consistent quality of Luke Shaw. As for Dalot, his days in a red shirt seemed numbered over the Summer, with reports emerging throughout the transfer window that Kieran Trippier was ready to replace him in the squad to provide competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

One area of the pitch where the two squad players undoubtedly excel in is the attacking area; their ability to cross the ball into the box is probably amongst the best in the squad, which would be beneficial to United’s newest signing who has proven to be able to defy gravity at times to put away headers. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been part of a team that has an underwhelming cross accuracy of 19% so far this season, which provokes the argument of handing more starts to Telles and Dalot, especially in games against lesser opposition who will play with every man behind the ball at Old Trafford. Critics of the United coaching set-up will rightfully say that the team often struggle to break down a low block, but the answer to such complaints may lie with handing more starts to the under-used defenders.

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The potential use of squad players like Telles and Dalot ties into a much broader argument that the manager failed to use his wider squad last season. Marcus Rashford defined the term ‘walking wounded’ for the majority of the last campaign, whilst Bruno Fernandes’ exceptional goal contributions suffered at the hands of increasing fatigue in the lead up to the Euros. It was revealed that Harry Maguire was one of a few who had been taking pain-numbing injections in the lead up to the Europa League Final, a game that he eventually ended up missing, and Scott McTominay has recently undergone surgery to mend a long-standing groin problem. Even when the likes of Telles were given an opportunity to start, the squad players were often rusty from a lack of first-team minutes in the build-up to the match.

Ultimately, the experiment of utilising Telles and Dalot for their chance creation abilities is one that is unlikely to happen. Their chances will come in the cup games, but the prospect of them starting in a Premier League game lies with Solskjaer and whether or not he will rotate his first-team more frequently. Whether it be through the rotation of the full-backs or not, however, there must be more chances created for Cristiano Ronaldo, who will surely be looking to bag two or three goals in most games and bring back the glory days for the Old Trafford faithful.


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