Could Fabinho become a first-team regular at Manchester United?
The interesting element of the Special One’s revolution at Manchester United this summer is that despite conceding the joint-lowest amount of Premier League goals under Louis Van Gaal last season with 35, equalled only by Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho has cited the defence as an area in need of improvement, and has already bolstered his rear-guard at Old Trafford with the signing of Eric Bailly from Villarreal.
Jose’s adjustment at the back may well be down to his tendency to encourage his teams to play out from defence in a possession-based style of play, which is also capable of setting up to contain and counter against stronger, more difficult opposition. His teams that have played this out successfully over the years have not only consisted of ball playing centre-halves, but box-to-box full-backs who provide extra width by getting up and down the pitch and overlapping the wingers ahead of them.
According to the Sun, Mourinho has identified a target to fit into such a role in the form of AS Monaco’s right-back Fabinho, which may just spell danger to the first-team prospects of United’s Italian right-back Matteo Darmian, who has also been linked with a possible return to Italy with Napoli an interested party.
The Italian hit the ground running in his first few games under Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford, after signing from Serie A outfit Torino, but a poor performance in United’s 2-1 Champions League group stage loss in Eindhoven to PSV ground the young right-back’s momentum to a halt.
His form never really recovered after that, and his worst performance in United colours saw him hauled off at half-time in a 3-0 drubbing by Arsenal, when he was given a full work-out by live-wire Alexis Sanchez.
Performances nearer the end of the season were more encouraging, but with Mourinho a fan 22-year-old Fabinho after working with the player in Real Madrid’s academy system, the Special One may be tempted to go with a familiar, reliable option at right-back over Darmian who has been somewhat hit-and-miss.
After two seasons on loan away from the Bernabeu under Carlo Ancelotti following Mourinho’s departure from Madrid, Fabinho excelled at Ligue 1 club Monaco, scoring eight times in all competitions last season and took over the role of the club’s first-choice penalty taker. An Old Trafford reunion between him and his former boss may well be on the cards.
The Brazilian’s 6 foot 2 frame not only makes him a powerful physical presence, but he is also a strong, pacey athlete in getting up and down the pitch, using his speed to stride away from opponents. Fabinho excels defensively and although he may not be an all-out attacking full-back, being slightly more defensively orientated than others around the world, he is versatile too. He is able to play at left-back and has sometimes featured in central-defensive midfield at the Stade Louis II for Monaco, given his defensive-minded game.
Attacking-wise, he may not offer as much flair and creativity as Darmian, but full-backs that are too offensively-minded can leave spaces at the back, which would serve Fabinho well in overhauling Darmian as first-choice in that position.
Fabinho can stride beyond opponents and provide balls into the area, but he is not as inclined to venture inside as his Italian counterpart. He can however very easily get back and win the ball, an area which sometimes lacks in Darmian’s game, particularly against quicker wide players.
Fabinho’s defensive instincts may prompt the Special One to place him in the starting-spot in order to avoid creative wide-players getting in behind at United, though one possibility that may just keep Darmian’s jersey safe is the prospect of Mourinho playing the Brazilian in central-defensive midfield rather than at right-back.
The 22-year-old’s athleticism and his engine has made him a great defensive screen at times for Monaco, and he is a very good ball-playing defender also. Given his tendency to take certain set-pieces, having him play in the centre of the park may make more sense. This could potentially be coupled with Darmian’s ability to get up the pitch and cause trouble, helping to make Manchester United under Mourinho even more dangerous. If a winger were to then capitalise on Darmian roaming too far forward, Fabinho could sweep in front of the back-line to deal with any danger.
There is a player capable of playing at full-back and in defensive-midfield at the club already in Daley Blind, but with his future at the club also uncertain, Mourinho may well make his move for Fabinho for the reassurance of having a reliable and versatile option in his squad.
In terms of dislodging Darmian therefore, it would depend entirely on how Mourinho wishes to use his full-backs. Darmian would be a better option offensively, but defensively against difficult opponents, or with players who aim to play on the counter against United, Fabinho may be the better player to receive the nod.
Though, given the versatility of the Brazilian, it is not out of the question that the two may well find themselves on the pitch together at United and in some ways that may just be the best method in which the Special One can use them and get the best out of both. Whether he does will become clearer in time.
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