Erik ten Hag has explained the seemingly bizarre choice to deploy Aaron Wan-Bissaka at left-back on Sunday.
Manchester United drew 2-2 in a pulsating match against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, with both sides having opportunities to clinch all three points.
Ange Postecoglou’s side were the far better team for the majority of the game, yet Scott McTominay had one of the best chances of the game in the final moments as he leapt to meet a beautiful cross from Alejandro Garnacho. The Scottish international could not control his header, however, and the ball sailed over the bar.
It was a match characterised as much by the players off the pitch as those on it.
Spurs were missing two-thirds of their front six, with Yves Bissouma, James Maddison, Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-Min all ruled out through injury or international duty.
United were forced to field Jonny Evans at centre-back as Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were unavailable, while Lisandro Martinez was only fit enough to make the bench. Similarly, Casemiro did not play a single minute on Sunday following his injury, despite being named as a substitute.
Luke Shaw was also a last-minute absentee which forced Ten Hag into selecting Wan-Bissaka in the unfamiliar role. Ten Hag revealed United had “trained with Luke Shaw in preparation for this game, but this morning he dropped out, not fit enough to start.”
As such, the Dutch manager was forced to improvise on the day, with Shaw’s usual deputy – Tyrell Malacia – also being ruled out with injury.
Diogo Dalot has often been switched over to left-back this season but Ten Hag revealed it would have changed the game plan his side had worked on in training too much to move the Portuguese fullback: “to then change back in what we trained in what was our game plan, then we had to adapt too much. So we decided to put Azza [Wan-Bissaka] on the left and keep Diogo on the right side.”
While Wan-Bissaka played reasonably well, given his lack of familiarity with the role, Shaw’s absence was felt down United’s left-hand side.
Pedro Porro, Spurs’ right-back, was a threat going forward, but a source of weakness for Postecoglou’s side defensively. Marcus Rashford was enjoying great success against the Spaniard, particularly in the first half. If he had been buttressed by Shaw’s support, United may have been able to exploit Spurs’ right-hand side even more.
But, as has been a theme throughout his Old Trafford career, Shaw was not fit. He is talented a left-back as anyone in Europe when he’s available, but this is rendered moot when he’s unable to stay that way for a consistent period of time.