There will be several positional battles to solve during Manchester United’s training camp this season. And one of the biggest will be who starts at right back ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Antonio Valencia spent most of last season on that role, but he is not a natural fit there. The Ecuador international plays better as a winger, and his pace could be a huge asset in a more advanced role.
Valencia, however, is not the only player capable of handling the right side of the defence. Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind, and Phil Jones can feature on that position adequately as well. And here at Stretford End we will analyse which player is the best option for the RB role next season.
Valencia has evolved into a competent right back despite the fact he started his career as a winger. And even though his defensive work could use some improvements, there is no question Valencia has learned the nuances of the position. His positioning on the pitch continues to get better, he can cover the entire flank, and he is a constant threat going forward. He does not have the defensive mindset that is associated with the position. However, he can get the job done, and Jose Mourinho is happy with his performances.
Valencia started 43 games across all competitions this season, but the downside is that he will turn 32 by the time the season starts. The Ecuador international is a quick, reliable fix for this problem. But he doesn’t have a lot of upside towards the future.
The Italian international settled quite nicely at Old Trafford this season. Even though he has not been able to replicate what he did in the Serie A a few seasons ago, there is no question Darmian is on the right track when it comes to his recent performances. The talented fullback can operate on both flanks with equal ease, but his natural position lies on the right. And he would definitively be a solid choice, as his presence would allow Valencia to return to his previous role.
However, Darmian did not spend a lot of time as a right back this past season. Luke Shaw’s poor form forced Mourinho to play Darmian on the left, and while he did a good job, he would be 10 times better on his natural side. If the manager wants a defensive-minded presence, then Darmian is the best choice available on the squad.
Other Available Options
In case Mourinho wants to try something new, he has other options available for the role. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind can play as right backs as well. But Jones and Smalling play better as centre backs. Meanwhile, Blind is the jack-of-all-trades on the squad, and he can fill any position available.
Considering the team’s playing style, neither of these three players would be the constant attacking presence Mourinho requires. Jones and Smalling are slow, and Blind plays better as a midfielder. So it would be foolish to make them compete in this scenario, because Valencia and Darmian have a clear advantage over the rest of the squad.
Considering Mourinho’s playing style, it seems the starter will be either Valencia or Darmian. Both players know the role, and can contribute on both ends of the pitch with equal ease. But based on what we saw last season, all signs indicate Valencia will remain as the team’s starting right back for, at least, another year.