The Search for a CM series has so far covered a Winter 2022 shortlist and scout reports on Locatelli, Guimaraes, Kamara and Tchouameni. It seems like Manchester United don’t really want a CM anytime soon, or at the very least are pushing this key decision until a new manager (mostly Erik Ten Hag) is confirmed and our Champions League status is sealed.
So, we move on to the other problem areas of the squad. The next 3 gaps appear to be CF, RW and RB. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s woeful form and unsuitability to a progressive or attacking role means that United probably need one player there, whether it be competition for Dalot or a clear upgrade. While CF and RW might require more understanding of what a new manager wants in that role, RB is something we can take a shot at. The trait requirements for a top team RB are fairly consistent for us to create a shortlist.
In this article, I will analyze right-sided defenders who can play in a back 4 or 5 from Europe’s top 5 leagues, create a shortlist using their 21/22 metrics and provide mini scout reports of the top 5 candidates United should go for in the coming summer 2022 window.
A few notes before we start:
1. Only players from the top 5 leagues have been considered. If you have a request for a non T5 player, please inform us and we’ll try to cover them in an individual report
2. The filters are taken based on what I feel is needed most for United’s RB. More will be explained below, but a different shortlist could emerge for a totally different profile. This is simply my idea of what United need most
3. All stats are from Fbref.com (via Statsbomb)
Before we get into the process, let’s understand the role we are going for. What top team RBs like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James are delivering on that Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn’t able to, is a good starting point.
Progression is the major gap that comes to mind. Both are able to progress well through passing & carrying which AWB struggles with and that remains one of the greatest responsibilities of a modern full-back. Dalot is also good in this aspect, already beating AWB for progression in the deep right zones and making our top 4 progressors even after playing much lesser than everyone else (See viz below).
After progression, the second main criteria would be creativity. A modern fullback needs to bear some load of chance creation which indicates some requirement of final ball delivery and final third decision-making. This is an aspect both AWB and Dalot lack. A better example might be Shaw who is much better at carrying into advanced areas and providing key passes. Shaw is our 2nd best chance creator behind Bruno for the 2nd year running. We need someone of his final 3rd threat for our new RB.
Finally, we need some level of defending and safety from the RB. While hardcore defending metrics like tackles and aerial wins aren’t a necessity, a basic level of trust in the form of ball control, ball retention & difficulty in getting dribbled past needs to be maintained.
With these 3 buckets in mind, let’s dive into the process.
STEP 1: Cleaning data
I downloaded all passing, defending and carrying stats per 90 for all top 5 league players from Fbref.com. Using Transfermarkt’s position data we first filter out all players except Right backs and Right Midfielders (Some right wingbacks appear in the latter category). Credit to @jaseviz, @NinadB_06, @exceedingxpuns for the position dataset.
Next we filter out all players who have not even played 12 90s this season. Most teams have played 30+ league games so far, so expecting our man to at least rack up 40% of his team’s gametime seems fair. Anything lesser indicates he might not be ready for a step up to United or is too injury-prone.
Here’s the first look at the list.
STEP 2: Choosing the relevant stats
Remember the 3 buckets we spoke about before? I have picked the following metrics for them:
Progression (High Priority): Progressive Passes, Progressive Carries
Creativity (Medium Priority): Key Passes, xA
Safety/Defending (Low Priority): Miscontrols, Dispossessed, Dribbled Past
These are the 7 stats we are going to focus on. We create Possession-adjusted versions of these stats to better reflect them when everyone has the same 50% possession to deliver in.
STEP 3: Filtering what we need
Next, I convert the 7 stats we just narrowed down on into percentiles. This means that if someone is a 100 percentile on Possession-adjusted Progressive passes per 90, he is the leader for that stat in the list we just made of RBs/RMs with >12 90s. Percentiles are a good way to judge how far/close the stat is to the leader stat.
I also create a ‘Weighted Overall Score’ which combines our 7 stats into one score giving 25% weightage each to Progressive Passes and Progressive Carries, 15% weightage each to xA and Key Passes, 10% weightage to Dribbled Past and 5% weightage each for Miscontrols and Dispossessed, based on the priority explained earlier.
When sorted by this score, we are starting to get good results.
Almost there. The obvious issue here is age. We don’t want players like Cuadrado and Candreva. Let’s set our age filter to be born after 1996 i.e. aged 25 or lesser. That seems like a fair age below which we can get realistic targets that are peak or potential. Here are the results:
That looks like a shortlist. Since we kept things a little vague here, we have a longer shortlist to work with. But there is a way in which we can judge more specifically who’s good at what.
STEP 4: Picking the top targets
I make a ternary plot using the 3 brackets we discussed, to check what our shortlisted RBs are better at. I have kept a minimum Overall score of 51% (Same list as shown in image) to limit the list to 20 options. Here’s the result:
As we can see, the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Reece James look good here. They are balanced for the 3 brackets we were going for and also appear at the top for Overall Weighted Score. That is a good reference point for the RB we are looking for.
Seeing the bottom-left, some RBs like Lirola, Lamptey and Hakimi lean heavily towards chance creation which can be confirmed with their on-pitch style. They play RWB in a back 5 and almost function like right wingers at times.
Looking at the right-top, we see Dalot, Aarons, Celik and Pierre-Gabriel who are good at Progression and defending but not chance creation. This goes in line with what we have said before about Dalot and his performances this season. We probably need to avoid another of the same type.
So, combining what we saw from the Weighted Score and the Ternary Plot distribution and removing a few players that seem impossible at this point (like Reece, Hakimi and Trent), we arrive at the 5 top candidates:
|Name||Squad||Age||Overall Score||Ternary Plot Reading|
|Jeremie Frimpong||Leverkusen||21||65.2%||Slightly better chance creation|
|Riddle Baku||Wolfsburg||23||64.0%||Slightly better chance creation|
|Tariq Lamptey||Brighton||21||59.1%||High chance creation|
Usually, I would have stopped here, like our previous shortlist articles, but in the interest of going one step further and providing details about the 5 targets, I dive into their mini scout reports below.
Before we look at the main list, here’s a percentile chart snapshot of what we are upgrading on, so that the comparison is easier.
Wan-Bissaka didn’t really turn any heads even during his slightly positive time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But since the sacking of the Norwegian and Dalot’s emergence, AWB looks really far from the required standard for a top team RB and probably needs urgent replacing in the coming summer.
Strengths: AWB is a strong man-marker rarely letting people get past him as indicated by his stat in the pizza chart, Dribbled Past. He’s also a good dribbler attempting many carries with good success.
Weaknesses: His progressive carries and Carries into penalty area aren’t great, indicating a lack of drive to actually get into good areas. His passing and chance creation is where it starts going into woeful territory. AWB is below the Europe average mark on most of these stats with Crosses, Progressive Passes and Passes into penalty area being the worst – this is what we drastically need to upgrade on.
Now that we know the problem, let’s look at the 5 solutions in order of Weighted Overall Score.
Positions: RB, LB, RWB
Foot: Right (89%)
Contract Expiry: June, 2025
Tottenham selling Walker-Peters to Southampton for £12m is starting to look like a steal every passing year. Since he joined The Saints in Jan 2020, he’s only been growing from strength to strength. Last season he started 35 times at RB in a back 4, while this season he’s started 24 times already with 16 of those coming at LB, showcasing his versatility.
His first England call up and debut against Switzerland during this March International break has been well deserved. His call-up ahead of Wan-Bissaka is a correct reflection of where both stand and United should also think of making the same upgrade.
Strengths: Our Ternary plot had him as a very balanced profile for the 7 metrics we chose, but even upon expanding into the 16 metrics in the pizza chart, Walker-Peters continues to look balanced. His greatest strength is his dribbling where he notches 90+ percentiles on most stats easily. But he’s no slouch as a passer either, dealing in the high 80s for progression and final 3rd entry. Defensively also, he looks very strong in terms of not being dribbled past (almost same as AWB) and Pressure Success %.
Weaknesses: The only stat he looks slightly weak on is Crosses which is partly a reflection of him playing at LB this season but even last season from RB, he was in the lower percentiles. Hopefully, his progression and chance creation from other means can cover that aspect. He is also aerially weak, standing at 5’8’ and not having a physical presence in general, so it would be a risk to assign him as a marker on set pieces or leave far post crosses for him to deal with alone.
Final Devil’s DNA Score: 10/10
Foot: Right (91%)
Contract Expiry: June, 2026
Molina moved from Argentina to Udinese at the start of last season, and after taking some time to settle, has established himself as a nailed-on starter for the club. He’s already crossed the 19 starts of last season with 24 in this season. The major caveat around Molina is that he has consistently played only RWB in a back 5 in both seasons.
Strengths: Unlike Walker-Peters, Molina shines in his crossing. He crosses 70 percentile for Key Passes, Crosses and Passes into penalty area which showcase a strong final ball threat. He is also a decent dribbler often prioritizing safety but his final 3rd entries show promise.
Weaknesses: Molina isn’t the best progressor in the world. He just about crosses the average for our progressions needs. Additionally, there is a huge question mark over his defending thanks to the back 5 role. His aerial and ground duels are largely untested and have been weak on the few times he’s been challenged, while his pressure success % stat is very grim. Probably, he’s the one from our shortlist who has suffered the most after the expansion from the initial 7 stats.
Final Devil’s DNA Score: 6/10
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Positions: RWB, RB, RW
Foot: Right (88%)
Contract Expiry: June, 2025
Originating from the Manchester City Academy, Frimpong found his footing in Celtic, where he played a lot of RB in back 4. This led to a transfer to Leverkusen in the winter window of last season. He took time to settle, starting just 6 times before the season ended. But after a pre-season with the club, he’s come out smashing this season starting 33 times establishing himself as a key starter at RB.
Strengths: Frimpong is all about drive and energy. His dribbling is already at an elite level, boasting league leader percentiles. He also has a decent final ball but prefers to carry into good areas and create a clearer chance, which his high xA highlights. His energy & physical excellence makes him an amazing tracker back, great presser & very tough to get past which is why his dribbled past stat is also close to the league leader. He also has age on his side to improve further, compared to the other targets.
Weaknesses: Frimpong cannot be called technical or creative. His passing leaves a lot to be desired which is highlighted by his poor Progressive passes and Passes into final 3rd stats. He often prefers to dribble out of situations than pass and doesn’t have the vision and technique to execute great forward passes. His high energy style also leads to low pressure success.
Final Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10
Positions: RWB, RB, CM, RW
Foot: Right (82%)
Contract Expiry: June, 2025
Rising through the youth ranks of Mainz, Baku established himself as a starter for the senior side and played a key role for them for 2 years before Wolfsburg came calling in last season’s summer window. Since then Baku has been an important cog starting 34 times last season and 28 this season. Baku’s versatility is immediately noticeable – capable of playing anywhere on the right side of the pitch and even as a central midfielder. His most senior appearances have been at RB then RWB and then CM.
Strengths: Baku often feels like a box-to-box midfielder who prefers right-sided areas. Another one who has boundless energy, he’s a fierce presser and tackler which make him very useful to win the ball high and support an aggressive press. His dribbling skill means he possesses a strong drive with the ball. His passing entries into the penalty area and his final ball are also very good, making him a very high-impact final third player.
Weaknesses: A lot of his weaknesses can be directly correlated to work in deeper areas or actions related to safety and retention. He isn’t a great progressive passer from deep and doesn’t help much in build up. He’s the guy making runs for a playmaker to pass to, not the one making the pass. His defending metrics are also weak, having a low dribbled past and pressure success, thanks to his tendency to press very high and leave space. Baku might be best utilized as a very attacking wingback or fullback with low defensive and build up duties and high final 3rd freedom. This could work as a complimentary profile to Dalot.
Final Devil’s DNA Score: 7/10
Positions: RWB, RB
Foot: Right (75%)
Contract Expiry: June, 2025
A Chelsea youth prospect, Lamptey moved to Brighton during the start of the 19/20 season. His integration has been gradual, getting 7 starts in his first season and 11 in his 2nd. The last 2 seasons saw him feature regularly as a trusted starter under Graham Potter whether it be at RB or RWB. 2 injuries over the last 2 years have made him miss 33 games, which is the main reason for his low number of starts.
Strengths: Lamptey is a brilliant attacker. His dribbling is world class while his final ball is also excellent for a player of his age. He constantly gets past his man, dribbles into good areas and provides penetrative crosses for his teammates. He also has some solid numbers for not getting dribbled past easily. He has age on his side to develop more.
Weaknesses: What he has in terms of final ball and crossing, he lacks in terms of progressive passing. He needs to be used as the wide creative outlet instead of the build up option. His dribble success is low because he attempts to beat his man a lot – an issue that can be mitigated if his attempts are high and wide up the pitch. His injury issues are also a concern and a team interested in him might want to see him remain fit longer before taking a plunge. Lamptey has to be seen as a wide creative force and again presents a complimentary option to Dalot.
Final Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10
We can now rearrange our final 5’s table with these updated final scores and thoughts.
|Name||Squad||Age||Final DDNA Score (on 10)||Comments|
|Kyle Walker-Peters||Southampton||24||10||Well-balanced high-performing RB/LB, Almost no cons|
|Jeremie Frimpong||Leverkusen||21||8||Physical RB/RWB, Great carrying & creation, Not technical. Not build-up friendly|
|Tariq Lamptey||Brighton||21||8||Attacking RWB/RB, Elite dribbling & final ball, Not build-up friendly, Injury issues|
|Riddle Baku||Wolfsburg||23||7||Attacking RWB with good carrying & passing, Weak at defending|
|Nahuel Molina||Udinese||24||6||Attacking passing-heavy RWB, Weak at defending & carrying|
One caveat I must highlight is that, just like how Molina’s rating reduced when we went into his detailed report, alternatively, other players from the shortlist (like Livramento for example) who were low on Weighted Overall Score, could increase on final score, once we take a more detailed look at them. If we ever do a second round of this, we can probably do detailed reports on the next 5 players who looked good on Overall Score and Ternary reading.
Thanks for reading so far. Apologies for the slightly long-ish piece, but I wanted to detail the targets, for those interested in that as well.
Who are you most excited about?
Is there someone who got missed?
Any scout report you’d like to see beyond the names mentioned?
Tell us on Twitter and we’ll get to it!