Following an inconsistent spell at Manchester United in recent years, Diogo Dalot is really starting to come into his own at Old Trafford, and it is visibly there for all to see.
If you were to speak to Reds fans about the standout players of the season so far, many would be quick to name new signings Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen, but more and more supporters are beginning to recognise Dalot’s good performances and contribution to the team in this current campaign.
This form has transpired onto an international stage, too, with the right-back scoring his first goal for Portugal against the Czech Republic on Saturday night, then going on to score another tidy goal to complete an unlikely brace in a 4-0 win.
Off the back of Dalot’s double, it seems a good time to analyse the upsurge in form of the 23-year-old and how he is turning it around at the Theatre of Dreams.
The Erik Ten Hag effectEmbed from Getty Images
A bitter pill that United fans have had to swallow in the last couple of years is that nobody really improved under the management of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Granted, players had good spells of form, but from David De Gea in the net to Marcus Rashford in the attack, not one player truly got better during the Norwegian’s tenure, and this was crippling for young players whose prime development years were suffering.
Dalot certainly fell into that category of young players. Despite being signed by Jose Mourinho in 2018, the former Porto man has spent most of his time at United being managed by Solskjaer, with Mourinho dismissed six months after his arrival. In turn, Dalot was never getting better as a footballer.
Now, though, United have a manager who is renowned for getting the best out of young players in Ten Hag, with the Dutchman very much a hands-on coach to improve players rather than just being a sideline manager. In just two or three months, Dalot has significantly improved his game all around; he looks lots more assured in the defence, whilst also looking more astute in the attack.
A slight improvement was seen with Ralf Rangnick, another specialist in improving young players, but that improvement was always going to be limited with the club in a toxic state during the German’s interim stint.
Just think how far he has come in such a short amount of time since the new manager arrived. The benefit of having a coach who improves players is probably overlooked, but is essential in understanding the improvement of players like Dalot.
Faith and backing from the bossEmbed from Getty Images
Regardless of the ability of a player, good performances do not come without confidence. A victim of Solskjaer’s favouritism, Dalot never really had a run in the side between late 2018 and early 2022, and it was Rangnick really who gave him a consistent spot in the team.
Ten Hag has also done this and it has worked to great effect. Consistently being picked shows a player that they have the backing of their manager. This leads to less rustiness (as there is no one game a month pattern), which in turn leads to better performances and overall improvement.
The devil’s advocate might point out that consistently being picked does not always lead to a player playing better. Harry Maguire is a classic example of that. Where it differs with Solskjaer and Ten Hag, though, is that players know there is no favouritism under the latter and their place is in jeopardy should they not perform.
There is a very healthy relationship between the likes of Dalot and Ten Hag; whilst the full-back knows that he has the backing and trust of his manager, he knows that he has to keep up the good performances, otherwise he will find himself on the bench. There is clearly respect there that benefits both the player and the manager.
Teammates around himEmbed from Getty Images
In many different walks of life, you are bound to perform better personally should the others around you also be performing well.
It would be hard for Dalot to build consistency if he was playing with a struggling Maguire at right centre-back, or a one-dimensional Daniel James on the right-wing. Instead, the Portuguese has been accompanied by Raphael Varane in the defence with Jadon Sancho- and more recently Antony- ahead of him. Not to mention the rest of the defenders looking excellent.
Good performances from those nearby him allows Dalot to build relationships with these players and optimise his own game. He knows he cannot venture forward playing alongside Maguire as much as he can when he plays with Varane, due to the Frenchman having better mobility in case he was left one-on-one. Similarly, he knows he has more chance of being spotted in space by Eriksen rather than Fred.
SummaryEmbed from Getty Images
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that Dalot is the long-term solution at right-back, but he has not done much wrong so far during the Ten Hag era. Having a manager who believes in him and improves his game, coupled with having good quality around him, has meant he has come on leaps and bounds lately.
There is certainly room for improvement, but with age on his side and the progress made in just two or three months, you would expect that to come.
With Aaron Wan-Bissaka looking surplus to the manager’s plans, the club may look to bring in another right-back to give Dalot some better competition for his place. The Braga-born man has started every game so far this season, which runs the risk of complacency, yet Ten Hag is not the sort of manager to allow that to happen.
Transfer guru Fabrizio Romano tweeted in the last hour that the defender is considered a top professional and that there is an option to extend his current contract until 2024 from the club’s side of things.
He conducts himself well and says all the right things. The man seems a classy and likeable guy, which does no harm in improving his relationship with the fans.
To round off, here is a reminder of a recent word from the man himself…
“We have a chance to be remembered as the players that brought Man United back”- Diogo Dalot.