Manchester United have signed three players in this transfer window—their third and latest signing being Nemanja Matic from Chelsea, a player who would fill the defensive midfielder-shaped hole in the first team squad for the foreseeable future under Jose Mourinho. Another gap that needs plugging at United with a long-term view in mind is, surprisingly, at right fullback.
Although the Red Devils are not short in quantity per se—with Players’ Player of the Year in 2016/17 Antonio Valencia, Italian international defender Matteo Darmian, and newly promoted Axel Tuanzebe all more than capable of playing at right back—there is still a glaring lack of flair and pace wrapped under physicality at right back—basically all the prerequisites of a successful modern full-back—at Manchester United and Mourinho’s disposal.
Interestingly, the Reds have been linked in recent weeks to Paris Saint-Germain’s rebellious Serge Aurier, while one news outlet has claimed that a contract has been verbally agreed already, with the player now waiting on a favorable court decision to be able to enter the country in order to complete the transfer.
So, I decided to speculate whether a likely move could make sense for Manchester United, through data obtained from WhoScored.com.
How does Serge Aurier compare with United’s best?
Comparisons between two players from two different leagues must generally be approached with caution, for various factors enter the frame that might skew the results one way or the other. But in this scenario, even though the numbers may not reflect the true difference between the two, the trends paint a fairly clear picture.
Both Aurier and Valencia are attack-minded full-backs with the willingness to venture forward with the ball aided by their pace to burn. Aurier, in his first season on loan in Paris, impressed manager Blanc so much (5 assists in 12 starts) that he secured a permanent move to the club not long after.
In 2015/16, the Ivory Coast defender excelled, playing a vital role in the club’s domestic campaign, making 21 appearances (all starts) and contributing to 4 goals in the process. His statistically calculated Whoscored rating of 7.75 made him one of the highest rated players at the club for that season and the then 23-year old was fully deserving of the accolade for his consistency on the pitch.
Last season, however, because of the two-month prison sentence in September—on the back of an alleged attack on a police officer—the Ivory Coast full-back was once again subjected to an internal disciplinary hearing. A ban was also imposed that prevented him from entering the United Kingdom which saw him miss the UCL group stage encounter against Arsenal.
The 24-year old still finished the season with 21 starts under his belt and 3 assists to his name, same as Antonio Valencia in 2016/17, who had clocked in 653 more minutes on the pitch.
At the back, it’s safe to say Aurier’s output is higher than that of Valencia, which may be attributed to the fact that he is a more natural full-back than the 31-year old Ecuadorian.
In 2014/15, Aurier averaged a combined total of 6 tackles and interceptions per game, which is a testament to his potential and physicality.
In the following campaign, he made almost twice as many tackles and interceptions per game as Valencia (almost 8 tackles + interceptions per game)—as part of a back four that conceded only 19 goals in the entire campaign.
It’s hard to imagine the 24-year old not fully buying into Mourinho’s pragmatic methods—which usually extract the best out of good defenders and makes them better than they really are.
Aurier, in many ways, possesses the best of both worlds; the aggression of Valencia coupled with the diligence of Darmian, and therefore strikes the perfect balance—perhaps the most important aspect of any modern full-back. And Manchester United cannot have enough of that.
On the pitch, there is little evidence to suggest that Serge Aurier would not improve on Mourinho’s existing full-backs and help the team going forward from wide areas. At 24, he’s at the right age to secure a big move to the Premier League and nail down his place in a position which is still very much up for grabs, like his international teammate Eric Bailly has successfully done, in the years to come.
But it remains to be seen whether Jose Mourinho would be ready to take the gamble.