Manchester United’s defence is always an area of discussion when it comes to improving the team, but the wide areas are definitely an area that has needed improving since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the club. While United have players like Martial, Rashford, Lingard and Mata, who can all play there, it isn’t their favoured position. They actually haven’t had a natural winger since Januzaj and Depay left the club. It has meant that United have been largely too predictable. Many of United’s best players are left sided, meaning if a team can just overload that area of the pitch, it massively limited United’s creativity. While a large 43% of United’s attacks go down the left side, they only attack the right side of the pitch 31% of the time, the lowest in the league. It’s understandable why United are like this. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, the two players who usually play there, like to come inside, meaning Ashley Young is usually the only option on that side of the pitch. Young is simply not good and shouldn’t be relied on to this extent, and it’s a side of the pitch that needs better options. If recent reports are to be believed, United are in talks with Swansea City to sign 21 year old Daniel James for £15 million. Is he the player to solve this problem?
James has more of an involvement this season than anyone really expected. After an unsuccessful season loan at Shrewbury Town, and later deciding not to go on loan to league 2 side Yeovil Town, the Welshman remained at Swansea to fight for his place, and it’s safe to say he has made an impression. He originally caught the eyes of football fans for his incredible solo goal against Brentford in this year’s FA Cup, which saw him single-handedly run 80 yards, through 3 players and score a great solo goal. He also scored in Wales’s first game for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, dispossessing one of their defenders, thanks to his blistering pace, and putting the ball away to win the game for Wales. It is by far his strongest attribute. While it is quite straight forward, having such speed gives you a natural advantage over defenders. His pace is a factor helps with other parts of his game, one being his ability to press. It’s why Leeds were desperate to sign him. He constantly keeps pressure on opponents and can the speed to be able to cover a lot of ground for his side. His versatility also deserves praise. Graham Potter likes his players to be able to play in numerous positions, to help tactical flexibility and formation changes. James has been stand out in this regard. He’s played both as a left winger and on the right side, while also playing as a number 10 and as a striker. Potter has used him in very inventive ways, and has brought out unique qualities in him. When looking at his numbers, we will only be looking at his performances only as a left winger. This is because it’s the position where he has seen the most minutes, so there is more to look at. He has been taking 2.9 shots a game, with 2.1 shots coming from inside the box. James is showing himself to be an intelligent player, taking shots in very good positions. He’s been making 1.3 key passes a game, with all coming from a short range. One of the only areas of improvement for the 21 year old would be his dribbling. While completing 1.3 dribbles is pretty good for a player who isn’t involved heavily in transition, he is only completing half of his attempted dribbles. He should be aiming for at least completing 60% of his dribbles, but it isn’t a huge area of concern at the moment. One of the best parts of James’s game is his ability on the counter attack. The Welshman is so fast that he has more control over counter attacks than any other player. He is the player who his teammate’s first want to pick out. His viral goal against Brentford shows this. When he receives the ball in his own half, he first hits it forward to chase onto it, knowing he can outrun anyone he is up against. He beat 3 defenders to score a brilliant individual goal. It was by far his highlight of the season. Many will look at James and see a player who has only managed 4 goals and 7 assists in the league. While that is a relatively small number for a player who is being linked to a top 6 club, his numbers show a player who if given more time on the pitch, could add more goal contributions.
The stats are showing a player who is putting in the shots and creating the chances that you see from elite players. Even comparing his stats to other players in the United squad, he would rank 2nd for shots per 90, with only Pogba being ahead of him. James is far from a finished article, but his ability to press, his versatility and his pure electric pace, especially on counter attacks, gives United additional options in an area they are in desperate need of fixing.