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Manchester United's full-back weakness exposed again by West Brom

Manchester United's full-back weakness exposed again by West Brom
From ESPN - April 16, 2018

Manchester United's 1-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion was a collective failure, one where Jose Mourinho and almost every one of his players were substandard. As a result, it seems unfair to single anyone out.

What is important, though, is to identify a key area where the team have both advanced and regressed, and this is in relation to United's full-backs.

Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are two of the squad's most reliable performers, defensively diligent from week to week, but there is a sense that their best instincts have long been suppressed.

This is not something that can be laid solely -- or even primarily -- at the door of Mourinho, since the issue arose some time before his arrival at Old Trafford. The fact is that two players who were among the very best crossers in the Premier League no longer deliver a consistently excellent final ball.

There are probably a couple of good reasons for that. One is that Young, in particular, has lost some of the speed that allowed him to get clear of his man before delivering the ball into the box. Moreover, he is a right-footer playing on the left wing, and so he always has to check back before he releases the ball.

In some games, the unfortunate and cumulative effect is that United concede a good 10 to 15 yards on the left flank in several attacks, since their opponents know that they will not attack the byline with any great aggression.

The addition of Alexis Sanchez has addressed this issue to some extent, but Sanchez is a right-footer, too, so he also hesitates when cutting inside. This might sound like a small matter, but it is the kind of thing which leads to a greater predictability in United's attack.

Young's loss of attacking flair is partly explained by his growing emphasis on his defensive duties, a fate which appears to have befallen Antonio Valencia.

Valencia's transformation is even more remarkable than Young's -- while Young is widely regarded as a hardworking yet ultimately limited full-back, Valencia has the tools to be the complete right-back. His defending has improved immeasurably and he has the speed and strength to unsettle anyone against him on the flank. He also regularly completes around 90 percent of his passes.

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