Decoding Matteo Darmian’s addition to United

Manchester United has always been a symbol of attacking football at its euphoric best. The attack is not just from the middle of the park or the wings but also marauding fullbacks. Be it from Dennis Irwin to Gary Neville all have imposed strong attacking presence with defensive solidity when required. Rafael Da Silva was the supposed candidate to replace Gary Neville but sadly his bustling energy and his impulsive attitude acted as a key blocker than his touted USP.

Under Louis Van Gaal, Manchester united has gone to changing as many as 4 defenders at right back and Antonio Valencia being the most successful amongst those candidates. But there is always a possibility of recklessness or lack of game understanding when playing a winger in his not so favored position.

The Ecuador international didn’t necessarily underperform over the 2014/15 campaign – his rating (7.23) was the joint-sixth best at United – a figure level with Ashley Young. However, it’s evident that Valencia is a winger shoehorned in at right-back, a square peg in a round hole. With Rafael now confirmed as being surplus to requirements, it’s no surprise Van Gaal is keen to strengthen. Nathaniel Clyne was reportedly high on the Dutchman’s wish list, but his move to Liverpool forced the united boss to look elsewhere. And then came in Matteo Darmian.

Who is Matteo Darmian?

Born in Legnano just outside of Milan, he is a graduate—and former captain—of the youth teams of AC Milan and made his first team debut for the Rossoneri as a 16-year-old back in 2006. Never truly given a chance to prove his worth, Darmian moved on to Padovathen Palermo, before being sent on loan to Torino four years ago.

However, injuries restricted his progress at Palermo – he finished the 2010/2011 season having made just 16 appearances – before being loaned out to Torino at the start of next season, where his career really started to take off. He made the right-back spot his own that season, which triggered Torino to stump up £500,000 to acquire his services from Palmero and Milan.

Influence at Torino

Matteo Darmian’s first campaign saw his team earn promotion to Serie A, but his real breakthrough came in the 2013-14 campaign, as the club enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent memory. Coach Giampiero Ventura switched to a 3-5-2 formation, his well-drilled side ensuring that opponents had little chance to counter the goals of Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile. This shows his versatility even at such a young age. In an era where fullbacks are considered to be a niche art than a requirement in a team.

While that stellar attacking pair received all the headlines, only six teams conceded fewer goals as the team earned a Europa League berth, returning to continental action for the first time in 12 seasons. Darmian was at the heart of that defensive solidity, playing on both flanks and even in central defense on a number of occasions.

What will Matteo Darmian add to the Manchester United squad?

AC Milan back then deemed him not so impressive in their youth system and touted as one of those many players in their fabled youth system. 4years later he is rated as Cabrini of Italian football, too big a name in Italian ground but is he worth the hype?

His biggest strength includes his awareness on and off the ball along with his ability to move up and down the flanks tirelessly. He can also play as a centre-back when required. He has got pace to burn on the wings along the backside and is particularly useful when you require defenders to track back. A feature which Louis Van Gaal would definitely need when Manchester United would be caught counterattacking (Assuming Manchester united plays 4-3-3 attacking football).

Darmian on the right and fully fit Luke Shaw on the left, seems an interesting prospect but only time will tell will they both click individually or they click simultaneously for the team.

Stats per game Darmian (Torino) Seamus Colema (Everton) Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton) Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
Chances created 1.18 0.97 0.63 0.81
Key passes 1.15 0.91 0.63 0.75
Assists 0.03 0.06 0 0.06
Goals scored 0.06 0.09 0.06 0
Pass completion 78% 84% 78% 89%

Although Valencia and Coleman have managed to create one goal more than Darmian (Clyne has had 0 assists) and Valencia’s pass completion rate being more impressive, it’s more down to Van Gaal’s emphasis on ball retention and ball recycling around the back 6, there are no conclusive reasons as to why the Italian or Coleman cannot maintain a similar pass completion rate if either of them makes the move to Manchester United. The seemingly lesser pass completion percentage of Darmian can also be attributed to his higher average pass length (19.5m) when compared to the likes of Valencia (15m) and Coleman (18m).

Van Gaal and Manchester united would have loved a more stable and a premier league established player ahead of Darmian but it would be cynical of the Dutch maestro to leave a world class prospect in him. Darmian offers a different option to Valencia at right-back. He is not going to break forward at any given opportunity but his defensive discipline stands him in better stead than other potential full-backs United were linked with. That (and the asking price) is perhaps the reason why United did not pursue their rumored interest in Seamus Coleman and Fabinho.

As far as defensive errors are concerned, Darmian comes with a reputation of knowing when to defend and attack striking the perfect balance while that’s understood here with his zero’ defensive errors while the rest have had their hiccups during the course of the season, especially Valencia whose error in the FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal costing United, a trip to Wembley.

Gary Neville said “I knew that Botox, summer training, and Italian lessons would fool everyone! #imback” the Ex man united Skipper has been pretty vocal about signings. After his first appearance for United in which he impressed for first 45 minutes only time will tell whether United have unearthed a special talent or is he a product of a failing art.

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