It is such a strange season Aaron Wan-Bissaka has tallied more goals than Trent Alexander-Arnold, championed for raising the right-back bar.
Like Dani Alves in the 2000s, Alexander-Arnold has redefined the expectation of attacking right-backs. Like Alves, Alexander-Arnold appears incapable of defending. Manchester City’s aesthetes dribbled past him as if he was no more of an obstacle than a training cone.
In a season where the playing field has been levelled, Alexander-Arnold – known solely as ‘Trent’ by his media cheerleaders – has been exposed without a teeming Kop. Wan-Bissaka, nigh-on flawless defensively last season, has looked uncharacteristically vulnerable in his own third and numerous opponents have targeted his propensity for switching off at the far post.
His more measured performance at Arsenal was maybe more encouraging than the goalscoring outing against Southampton, an anomalous occasion for its remarkable 9-0 scoreline. Wan-Bissaka technically notched an assist against Everton, although Bruno Fernandes’s dipper was so spectacular nobody recalled the pass to him.
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Manchester United beat West Ham 1-0 in the FA Cup, thanks to Scott McTominay’s extra-time winner.
United sealed a spot in the cup quarter-finals with victory over David Moyes’ side at Old Trafford, and now they travel to West Brom in the league on Sunday.
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Wan-Bissaka, 23, has already equalled his number of assists for last season and his importance could be gauged by another start in the FA Cup win over West Ham. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is patently not comfortable with starting Brandon Williams there against high-level opposition and Wan-Bissaka was removed for the sake of his own conditioning after 90 minutes, the tell-tale sign being him chomping on a banana to ease the onset of cramp.
United refreshed their right-hand side with the additions of Wan-Bissaka and Mason Greenwood to their squad 18 months ago and the rookies are now regulars. Greenwood, 19, has started in six of the last seven games and his performance level is nearing the heights of last season after a trying four months brought on himself by his Icelandic transgression.
Greenwood is generating widespread approval again despite his low goals and assists output. He was unfortunate to be hooked ahead of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial against West Ham and Solskjaer chuckled at a query about it.
“Mason did really well,” Solskjaer said. “He played well. We’re managing his minutes. He’s played the last three now from the start and Anthony played a game the other week and didn’t play the last game, so we wanted him to complete the game.
“Marcus, we wanted to keep him for the counter threats, the pace. Mason was really positive tonight.” Rashford was positioned perfectly to tee up Scott McTominay for the winner yet has featured in literally every United game this term, starting in all but seven and it has taken its toll on his form despite the flattering numbers.
Solskjaer is not as crowdpleasing with substitutions as he was as a player. He waited until the 72nd minute to make changes on Tuesday night and Amad was unused in his first matchday involvement since arriving from Atalanta last month. He embarked on a few jogs in minus temperatures but as the game developed the chances of his introduction subsided. Paul Pogba’s three-week absence and the restart of the Europa League, with its 23-man matchday squads, at least make a debut inevitable this month.
Amad played within himself at a level beneath him for the Under-23s and still scored three goals and created another three across two games. Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, fellow scorers in the 6-4 goal-glut against Blackburn on Friday, are indebted to their new teammate for their promotions to the first-team bubble.
The impact of Amad, 18, at U23 level was all the more remarkable for he had not trained with the squad – or even met them – prior to his club debut in the 6-3 shellacking of Liverpool. Left-footed, quick and unpredictable, he is a rawer version of Greenwood on the right, only there are no plans for him to move central.
Finally, United have captivating options for their problematic right wing role. Amad, for the rapid rise alone, is possibly United’s most exciting signing since Pogba’s homecoming in 2016 and it is lamentable he will not make his senior entrance in front of a packed Stretford End.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the same age as Amad when he skipped onto the Old Trafford turf against Bolton and clasped hands with a Stretford Ender after his coruscating cameo. Alexander-Arnold isn’t the only one missing matchgoers.