It was only a short time ago that it seemed that Diogo Dalot was on limited time at the Theatre of Dreams. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the undisputed first-choice right-back, with Dalot rarely being used for rotation.
A transfer away from the club would’ve been likely last summer if it wasn’t for Kieran Trippier‘s transfer to the club not materialising.
However, the situation now looks very different with Ralf Rangnick at the helm, and the Portuguese right-back is being given the chance to prove his worth at Manchester United. He started four Premier League games in a row and it was Wan-Bissaka who started the dead-rubber against BSC Young Boys. While United’s no.29 also was the choice against Burnley last time out, it seemed like a matter of rotation rather than redemption.
Dalot has had mixed opinions amongst supporters since he joined the club in 2018. A great crosser of the ball, but has been questionable defensively. But, now, what does Diogo Dalot bring to United?
Range of passing
The primary strength that Dalot has brought to the side in the matches that he has played this season has been the wider range of passing that he offers.
Wan-Bissaka is pretty reluctant to use his left foot, and this sometimes limits his passing opportunities and execution. It also is one reason why he can sometimes be a pressing trigger for the opposition.
In the Premier League this campaign, Dalot averages 5.88 passes with his weaker left foot per 90, while his English counterpart averages just 3.14.
In the clip above, Dalot was pressed but able to help switch the play quickly with a left-footed pass into Fred. This was made much easier by his comfortability to use his weaker side — otherwise, he probably would’ve played back to Victor Lindelöf, and progression would’ve been slower and Crystal Palace could’ve shifted across easily.
The right-back also is confident to play longer passes, and his intensity can allow him to fire passes between the lines which we’ve seen a few times in his cameos this season. This helps aid quicker progression which would be music to Rangnick’s ears.
The following slideshow will display Dalot’s passing maps in his last three matches against Arsenal, Palace and Norwich — and also Wan-Bissaka’s map against Newcastle earlier this season, courtesy of Stats Zone.
Despite Wan-Bissaka playing more passes than Dalot in two of his three matches — Dalot’s wider range of passing is quite apparent. United’s no.20 is not afraid to miss his teammates out in build-up, which can sometimes speed up possible progression and even possibly create a chance; as shown in his fierce pass into Cristiano Ronaldo in the clip below.
He averages 5.69 progressive passes per 90, which is the second-most in the United squad – only Paul Pogba (8) averages more.
For United’s second goal against Arsenal, Dalot took progression into his own hands and played a great pass into Marcus Rashford (with his left foot too!).
A simple pass to Fred would’ve probably been the safe option, but Dalot noticed the Arsenal left-back out of position and took advantage of the situation. Missing others out in the build-up and taking progression into his own hands.
The 22-year-old also is capable of long switches across the pitch in order to allow his team to take a different approach to break down blocks.
His long passes attempted per 90 average at 11.8, showing his willingness to play longer from the right. He also averages a decent 61.7% accuracy from these passes. Meanwhile, his counterpart averages just 4.93 long passes attempted per 90 this season, with a significantly worse completion rate of 52.2%.
Despite being a similar height as Wan-Bissaka, Dalot has proven to be more impressive in the air than the Englishman. Winning 70.6% of his duels in the air this season, Dalot is one of the better full-backs in Europe when it comes to aerial battles, whereas Wan-Bissaka wins just 37.1% of his duels in the air this campaign.
We have often seen troubles at the back post for United full-backs, so perhaps if Dalot is given a longer stint in the position we will be able to see whether he provides stronger stability at the back post when opponents are attacking from United’s left.
The area which many believe to be Dalot’s strong point is how he offers an attacking threat on the right flank, and he does so in a number of different ways.
Firstly, Dalot offers a nice touchline threat for United. He likes to push forward and hold the width, which will help United stretch teams when they’re defending in a block. This is a standard position that he picks up when United are in possession vs a deeper block.
Meanwhile, Wan-Bissaka will not hold this width as often as Dalot does, and inverts more often. However, his progression and creation numbers often mean that he’s not the most use in possession unless there is space to drive into or he is able to combine with players.
This could be more useful playing alongside Jadon Sancho though, as someone like Mason Greenwood is attracted centrally and that means United’s width is not held, whereas someone like Sancho can hold the width well when he playing on a flank.
As mentioned previously, Dalot can take progression into his own hands, and he also has the confidence to play key passes into dangerous areas. He plays 1.94 passes in the penalty area per 90 while his competition averages just 0.64 per 90.
These chances often come from crossing positions from Dalot, and while he can sometimes be inconsistent with his delivery on the run or in slightly deeper areas, he can put in solid crosses from the touchline area and knows when to play them across the floor too.
His low cross to Edinson Cavani for the equaliser against Newcastle was perfectly executed to find the striker, while a low ball into Greenwood’s feet against Crystal Palace got the young forward into a dangerous position inside the penalty area and he ultimately set up Fred for the winner.
The full-back also offers a solid overlapping threat, putting high intensity into his runs on the flank. This gives players like Sancho and Greenwood – who prefer to cut inside into the half-spaces – a progressive option on the flank as it did Sancho in the below example.
Up against Allan Saint-Maximin, Dalot faced a top winger against Newcastle and his defensive fragilities showed at times. This is certainly the area where United fans are most sceptical about Dalot being a consistent starter for The Reds.
This weakness should be able to be less prominent if United are able to improve their team defence and control games more. Dalot is a better player to have when your team is in possession of the ball, rather than out of it. The opposite could be said for his counterpart, Wan-Bissaka.
Ultimately though, Dalot has shown some real strengths in his game over the last month or so, and has put himself in for a chance to be a consistent starter for the short-term future at least.
Of course, United could very well look for a top-class right-back in the future, with the likes of Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold being a cut above the rest, neither of United’s right-backs are challenging those two. But, for the moment, Dalot could be a stop-gap solution to some problems that United have had in that position recently.
It could also be the first time that the full-back has consistent game time at the club since joining, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with it.