Manchester United defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka has credited Erik ten Hag with his transformation going forward and in contributing to attacking phases of the game.
Before the World Cup, Wan-Bissaka seemed to be definitively destined for an exit from Old Trafford with Ten Hag showing a clear preference for Diogo Dalot.
Wan-Bissaka’s perceived weaknesses going forward made Dalot a far more attractive option for Ten Hag. However, an injury to Dalot in Qatar handed the Englishman a golden opportunity to re-establish himself in the team and he grabbed it with both arms.
Wan-Bissaka’s improvement has been visible for all to see and the 25-year-old is now a genuine challenger to Dalot for a regular starting berth.
The former Crystal Palace man is experiencing a rebirth of sorts and is now just as much of a threat going forward as he is a defensive rock at the back.
According to Wan-Bissaka who exclusively spoke with The Telegraph, his progression is primarily down to Ten Hag and the Dutchman’s detailed instructions.
He said, “You don’t expect it to happen overnight. It takes time, concentration and focus and understanding.
“Growing up it was quite natural until I became a defender, so you forget a little because you are not in those areas again. So it is quite weird, you focus more on the defending side. That was the transition. Now I’m getting used to it again. It’s putting me in those positions to get used to it because there is a chance in the game when I have to be in those positions for myself or to make space for another player.
“Those crossing opportunities always come up in a game so you have to be prepared for them so you have to keep practising them and training them.”
Wan-Bissaka told The Telegraph that, in Carrington, Ten Hag is keen not to have his full-backs in a straight line facing up the pitch. The emphasis is on occupying inverted positions in midfield when required to do so and making overlapping runs on the outside.
As per Wan-Bissaka, while the perfect delivery is important, what matters most to Ten Hag is the timing of runs.
“I think it’s getting involved more in the higher part of the pitch, which is what the manager wants. That is what I’ve been giving him. He wants the full-back and winger to be on opposite lines, so if one is outside, the other is inside. That is what has been happening in the games on both sides of the pitch.
“It is about timing. When to be in certain positions at different times. To get forward and be an option, the more players in the box the better. What it is is just having that understanding of what the coach demands. He is demanding and it brings the best out of us.”
The right-back noted that all of this is intended to give more options to other players. Space is created for his teammates who can then exploit these areas of the pitch to go up and score goals or hurt the other team’s defensive structure.
The United number 29 was quizzed about the competition for places in the team and more specifically, the friendly rivalry between himself and Dalot.
Wan-Bissaka stated that this is something he relishes. It motivates him to never relax and to keep improving day by day. Wan-Bissaka opined that he is currently playing the best football of his career and is at a higher level even compared to the excellent form that secured his move from Selhurst Park to United.
He said that he is now more consistent and he feels it within himself.
The United star opened up about his time away from the team and what the future holds for him. Will he still be at United or does a move elsewhere appeal more?
He responded, “It has been my intention to stay but during that period (out of the team) my aim was just to play, everyone loves playing and it makes me happy. During that time I would do anything to play again.
“I am happy here, I have been happy since I’ve joined and that is what I worked for and what I continue to work for.”
On United’s aims this season, he divulged, “That was our aim, to get the top four, and that is our target. We have had some injuries which were not good news to us but at the same time there is nothing we can do. The best thing we can do is stick together and get as far as we can.”
With a report yesterday naming Wan-Bissaka as one of the players who could be sold to make way for the arrival of new recruits, a re-assessment may be needed when the summer transfer window opens. The player is going from strength to strength and proving his mettle.
The right-back position is hardly a priority area of the team that requires immediate addressing compared to other roles such as goalkeeper, midfielder and as a striker. On current trajectory, the sky is the limit for Wan-Bissaka. A rethink of his future is certainly merited.
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