Player Focus

2017/18 Player to watch – Matteo Darmian

darmian

The Italian has struggled in recent time but could become a key player in the coming EPL season, where fullbacks are likely to play a huge role

Matteo Darmian got off to an excellent start for Manchester United – exhibiting confidence both in attack and defense – so much so many started believing LVG had unearthed Gary Neville’s long term successor. The Italian moved to OT amid interest from major European sides like Juventus and Bayern – an indication of his fine form at the time. However, somewhere between LVG’s constant tinkering and the reported daily tactical brainwashing sessions Darmian lost his mojo.

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The Italian arrived with much promise

Under JM, Darmian looked doomed with early reports suggesting he would be sold, yet the defender went on to feature in over twenty-five games across competitions – mostly in the second half of the season. Gradually he won JM over. Unfortunately, Darmian’s confidence/form hasn’t been helped by teams defensive instability, as well as the constant switching of positions. Not many Red Devil fans would deny that the defense has rarely looked secure, despite a respectable defensive record.

The probability of the player returning to form in a settled defense alongside (theoretically) Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra would be much greater, than with his current defensive counterparts. But with improvements continually evident in defense, and with Matic now providing further security – hoping the Serbian is still capable of putting in the same level of performances that contributed largely to Chelsea’s recent successes – the real Darmian may potentially re-emerge.

Darmian stats

 Not indicative of his potential

However, he has to improve his concentration, awareness and man-marking. Darmian has often been guilty of being too light in challenges or getting caught out by attackers – contrasting the player who impressed after joining. Recently, the fullback was reportedly offered in part exchange for Ivan Perisic – supposedly being signed to take advantage of Lukaku’s aerial prowess. But with negotiations stalling, the onus will fall on others to deliver. Darmian inclusive.

Martial, Rashford, Lingard, Mikki and Mata have been utilized on the wings, but none is considered an orthodox winger – as such crossing from wide is not a strong facet of their game. In all likelihood the fullbacks will have to step up in that regard. The importance of attacking fullbacks cannot be understated – evident as Chelsea and Spurs dominated the league last term. In the UCL the likes of Marcelo, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro were instrumental to the progress of their sides.

A further indication is the transfer market where the cost of signing fullbacks has also skyrocketed. Man City have just armed their squad with three fullbacks worth about £126m. Alex Sandro – after arguably only one decent season – is now worth £68m. Also, most top European teams have invested in at least one fullback this summer. as the graphic below highlights. The offensive role fullbacks play is perhaps why they are suddenly valued as high as forwards.

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Every top team wants one

Getting the best out of the attacking fullbacks may require a change in formation. United appeared to play better in pre-season when in a 3-5-2, and with Matic performing a similar role for United as he did last season with Chelsea, that may be the preferred formation going forward.

United have a number of decent options in RB, with Valencia the clear incumbent and youngsters like Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe impressing as understudies. Darmian is also an option, but the LB spot may hold more opportunities for the versatile 27 year old. Especially with the injury/fitness situation surrounding Luke Shaw. Blind is often JM’s first choice but his lack of pace has often been detrimental in an attacking sense. Defensive midfield arguably remains his best position.

Rojo has never been consistent as a fullback for United. His crossing has been mostly wayward, despite that being a feature of his game at the 2014 World Cup. Arguably another victim of LVG’s brain washing. The Argentine has looked more solid in central defense under Jose, and is where he is more likely to play. Leaving Darmian with the golden opportunity of making the position his in the short-term – while Shaw sorts out his fitness, and Valencia edges towards retirement.

A long term replacement for Valencia should soon become a priority, with reports suggesting Aurier or Fabinho could join. ‘The Darmian’ who joined is at least as good as either player. A return to form on the left could see him return to the right in the longer term. Often said to be out of position on the left side, yet, the fullback played a significant amount of games on the left for Torino and is primarily used as a left wingback for Italy. There is no reason why he cannot perform there for United.

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The fullback often played from the left for Torino, scoring 4 goals 

There is no doubt Darmian would make a solid RB in a side featuring a strong defense. Should he regain confidence and start playing with the consistency of his early days, then United should certainly have no need for another expensive fullback signing. It is now up to him to ensure he doesn’t join the growing list of player who crumbled under the weight of expectation that comes with playing for Manchester United – assuming it isn’t too late already.

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