Left-backs don’t tend to start very well at Manchester United.
Recent history is pocked with examples of star names struggling on their debuts on the left side of United’s defence. You only have to go back to 2006 and Patrice Evra’s first United appearance, in a ferocious Manchester derby against Man City, which ended in his half-time withdrawal and an apology from his agent for arranging the £5.5million transfer from Monaco in the first place.
You cannot imagine United’s social media channels, had they existed back then, making a highlights compilation of Evra’s debut. So the fact they saw fit to post Alex Telles’ ‘best bits’ from his Premier League and Old Trafford debut against West Brom is a promising enough sign in itself.
Telles threw himself into the early challenges with all the enthusiasm and courage that you need to take the leap from Portuguese football to the Premier League. The English league’s ‘physical’ tag can be over-emphasised, but there is no doubt it’s a step up for Telles. He only needs to ask Bruno Fernandes, however, for tips on how to make the adjustment without a hitch.
The strong Portuguese-speaking contingent at Old Trafford ought to help Telles, too. With Fernandes, Fred, Nemanja Matic (who played for Benfica) plus Diogo Dalot and Andreas Pereira — though the latter pair are currently away on loan — there is no shortage of friendly faces and voices to help Telles settle in. Dalot drove Fernandes into training for the first few weeks of his stint at United until Covid-19 restrictions dictated that players isolate from each other away from the training ground, so Fernandes rented a Mini Cooper.
Telles is driving himself into training and looks and feels like a United player already. Thanks to Luke Shaw’s current hamstring injury, he will get an elongated run in the side to stamp his authority on the left-back spot.
There is every chance Shaw may struggle to win back the place that he had made his own, after a difficult few years at the beginning of his own United career. Genuine competition is not something United have boasted at left-back since the days when Evra was battling with Gabriel Heinze under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Telles’ progress may be bad news for Dalot in the long run, though. Both were together at Porto between 2016 and 2018 though they never actually started a game together. And it was clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was happy to send Dalot, the Jose Mourinho signing, away on loan once he knew Telles would arrive in the summer transfer window.
AC Milan is a great club for Dalot to join on loan and there have already been noises coming out of Italy that the Serie A giants would like Dalot to stay. Having been so integral in those nascent months of Solskjaer’s reign in 2019 as a marauding right-back, but also as a player with great versatility, it would be a shame to see Dalot slip away but starting spots are more limited than ever these days in the United full-back berths. The Portuguese-speaking clan is just as strong even long after Mourinho’s departure.
Another who may struggle to see through his potential is Brandon Williams, who initially looked a natural at left-back despite being right-footed and having played on the other side for most of his academy years.
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Manchester United ground out a 1-0 win over West Brom to finally notch a victory at home in the Premier League this season.
It wasn’t pretty but it means two successive wins for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who have to balance league and Champions League commitments over a busy period in the coming weeeks.
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Williams flirted with a loan to Southampton on deadline day and has again been touted for a loan exit in the upcoming January window. He has effectively become Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s back up on the right side of defence following Telles’ exit. United also have Timothy Fosu-Mensah, however, who seems to have Solskjaer’s trust as it stands.
It would be a shame to lose both Dalot and Williams, two players who seemed genuinely exciting Solskjaer prospects at earlier points in his tenure. But if Telles can bring his Brazilian quality to left-back on a consistent basis, and build on a very solid league debut against West Brom, the pain would be eased somewhat.