Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford.

Wan-Bissaka's assists anomaly

Friday 07 February 2020 07:00

Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a unique player. In 40 years of watching football, I don't think I have ever seen a player like him.

A defender who relishes tackling so much he almost seems to invite opponents to take him on. Like a Venus flytrap, he waits and then snaps into challenges and, almost always, manages to win the ball.

During the opening game of the Premier League season, there was an incident when Ross Barkley broke clear and there was mentally time to think 'it's going to be a yellow card but it's a challenge Aaron has to make'. Instead, he snaked his leg around the England international and, somehow, won the ball cleanly.

Aaron's on the attack Video

Aaron's on the attack

Wan-Bissaka has posed problems for opposition left-backs in recent weeks, as our video shows…

There was enough evidence on the pre-season tour to suggest he would be fascinating to watch. As the months have passed, it has been reassuring knowing he is there to nullify attacking threats down his flank. He marked Manchester City's Raheem Sterling as well as anybody has, and proved up to the task, whenever dealing with opposing forwards.

Nobody can doubt his remarkable tackling skills, exquisite timing, speed of recovery or determination to keep the door bolted at the back.

However, as is always the case these days, there has been a focus in some areas of where improvements can be made to his game. I saw one comparison with Trent Alexander-Arnold's assist record, which seems highly unfair as Liverpool play a very different system, the England international takes set-pieces and recently became the first defender in Premier League history to rack up double figures in terms of setting up goals, in consecutive seasons.

The fact is Wan-Bissaka has only one assist to his name in the Premier League this term, crossing for Marcus Rashford to leap to head home against Newcastle United, but it is a misleading statistic. 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest his attacking work is coming on leaps and bounds and, with a bit more luck, he would have many more assists to his name.

Wan-Bissaka in action against Manchester City.

There have been numerous instances when he has executed his part of the job to perfection. A fine cross for another Rashford header, against Aston Villa, no longer counted as an assist when it was recorded as an own goal by former Red Tom Heaton. But in some of our most recent games, he has shown even more of an appetite for getting forward and creating opportunities for his colleagues.

At Anfield, his volleyed ball across the face of goal was inches away from being converted by Andreas Pereira, who could only get his studs to the ball. In the disappointing defeat to Burnley, he laid on two inviting crosses but Anthony Martial and Juan Mata were unable to supply the finishing touch.

After missing the 6-0 victory at Tranmere Rovers in the Emirates FA Cup, the onus was more on defending in the 1-0 second-leg win at Manchester City, in the Carabao Cup semi-final. However, last time out, against Wolves, he came close to crucially unhinging the visiting defence in the dying seconds.

Pushing the ball past Jonny Otto and delivering a cross into the danger zone, the sort of move we want to see our players make could have led to a dramatic winner in front of the Stretford End. Diogo Dalot got his head to it but diverted his effort narrowly wide of Rui Patricio's left-hand post. 

So no addition to his assists tally, despite the fine piece of work, and an illustration why such stats might not always tell the complete picture. Brian McClair always jokes he registered assists for making the final pass before David Beckham's long-ranger against Wimbledon and Eric Cantona's sumptuous chip past Sunderland. 

What fans are hopefully noticing is all the effort on the training ground is developing the attacking side of Wan-Bissaka's game. Let's not forget his role at Crystal Palace was primarily focused on defending, particularly with Wilfried Zaha available to provide an abundance of attacking flair higher up the pitch. But it is also worth remembering he was previously a winger at Selhurst Park and has the ability to get forward with intent.

The attacking output of our full-backs will continue to be scrutinised, especially if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer adopts a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 formation more frequently in the remainder of the campaign. However, there is a reason our summer signing from Palace is already extremely popular with the supporters. He is second only to Rashford in terms of player names on the back of shirts sold worldwide via our e-commerce site.

They too must be impressed by his excellent defensive work. Just look out for more and more attacking contributions in the future - possibly after extra work on this during the winter break.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.