Can Matteo Darmian solve Manchester United’s Defensive Woes?
Since Dani Alves has decided he wants to stay at Barcelona and former Saint Nathaniel Clyne has opted for Anfield, United have become more limited in options for a right back. Fortunately, there remains hope in Matteo Darmian. According to various internet sources including trusted Italian journalist Gianluca DiMarzio, United has been strongly linked with the Italian wingback and he could be just what the Red Devils need. Napoli and Bayern Munich have also been linked but it appears as though United is leading the race. The 25-year-old has had a strong presence for Torino and began to garner more attention when he performed well at the World Cup in Brazil last summer.
United’s Defensive Problems
This past season Van Gaal experimented with Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia in the right fullback position despite the fact that both of them are more suited to the roles of centre back and winger respectively. Both Jones and Valencia were preferred over Rafael, a true right back, who appears to be out of favour. Even if preferred, Rafael spent a significant portion of the last campaign injured, and when he was healthy, his height (5ft 7in) left him vulnerable on set pieces. Against Chelsea, he was marking Drogba on a corner that cost United a goal. Valencia, while talented and athletic, lacks experience in the defensive role and made mistakes that led to United conceding against the likes of Arsenal, and is more suitable in a midfield role.
Matteo spent his youth career at Milan but didn’t manage to make many senior appearances. He was loaned to Padova in Serie B for a season, then spent a season at Palermo. Darmian has played most recently for Torino since 2011, where he made 133 appearances and even managed five goals this season. He has also made thirteen appearances for the Italian national team and has recently solidified his place as the preferred right back on a side typically associated with strong defence.
In January he was awarded the Pallone Azzurro, over the likes of Pirlo and Marchisio, which is given to the best player for the national team for the previous year. The versatile defender has experience in a 3-5-2 formation and would be quick to adapt to United’s preferred formation. The wingback can play on either flank but prefers the right where he most often plays.
At six feet tall, he has a strong aerial presence on set pieces on both ends of the pitch and is quite the improvement over Rafael. He is a strong tackler, won 52% of duels this season, and had a pass accuracy of 78%. He is effective offensively, creating the second most chances of any member of the Torino squad (39). To relate to Manchester United, only Rooney, Mata and Di Maria created more chances than the Italian fullback.
At twenty-five, he is the perfect age for United who need an experienced fullback, that still has plenty of years to play and potential to develop further. He also has some European experience as he made 10 appearances in the Europa League where he completed nearly 80% of his passes, scored two goals and assisted two more. Darmian is renowned for his pace, stamina, and his combination of offensive and defensive quality. He has been compared to other Italian defenders like the legendary Maldini. United would do well to sign a player who is so solid defensively but possesses the endurance (see this endurance training guide) and tactical awareness to effectively play up and down the right flank, a skill that is conducive to their playing style.
It is clear that Darmian would be a great signing for the Red Devils who are striving for a return to title contention this season. The signing would strengthen the defence, as well as free up Valencia to play in his natural winger position. The Torino president, Urbano Cairo, says that he will not let Darmian leave for less than 20 million euros but many would agree that this is a fair sum for the defender, and it is certainly a signing United can afford. The right back could finally be the replacement in the position that has been lacking at Old Trafford since Gary Neville retired. In combination with the incoming Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven, the Italian could contribute to a very strong summer window for United. Darmian belongs at an elite club and has the potential to develop into quite the formidable defender.
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