Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be key to Manchester United’s chances in the New Year’s Day clash with Aston Villa, as he will likely be at least partly responsible for keeping Jack Grealish shackled.
Grealish has been a standout player in the Premier League this season, with their exceptional start to the 2020-21 campaign in no small part down to the attacking midfielder’s influence.
Only five teams have scored more than Villa’s 28 goals this term, though four have played two more matches than them. The other, United, have played one game extra.
Grealish has scored five and set up six, excelling in his free-roaming role from the left as he has also created 51 chances in the Premier League – Hakan Calhanoglu (53) of Milan is the only player to have played more key passes across Europe’s top five leagues.
Of those 51 chances created, 23 have come following a carry, defined by Opta as a movement of the ball that is greater than five metres from where it was received. No other player in the Premier League has produced more than 13 key passes from comparable situations.
Grealish impressed against United at Old Trafford last term, scoring a gorgeous goal in a 2-2 draw, and Wan-Bissaka is primed for a potentially decisive tussle with the England international, as the right-back delved into the data with United Review.
“I know he is always up there with getting the most fouls,” Wan-Bissaka said of Grealish, whose 65 free-kicks won is comfortably the most in the Premier League. “We all know he’s a tricky player when he’s out there on the pitch.
“He is a great player. He’s unpredictable and can go inside or outside with the ball. I played against him last season and just have to be ready to take it as it comes.
“It is another challenge I am more than ready to take on, but he’s not the only player we need to be paying attention to – they have lots of other good players like John McGinn, Ross Barkley, Trezeguet and others. We know it will be a tough game.”
While Wan-Bissaka expects a testing encounter, Grealish surely will not be predicting an easy ride either – Opta revealed on Thursday that the United right-back made the most tackles (96) in the Premier League for a third successive calendar year in 2020.
96 – Aaron Wan-Bissaka led all players in the Premier League for tackles made in 2020; indeed, this is the third consecutive year where Wan-Bissaka has made the most tackles of any defender in the competition (99 in 2018 and 133 in 2019). Fearsome. #OptaReview2020 pic.twitter.com/MlmN93dJfN
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2020
On top of that, Wan-Bissaka’s 50 blocks is a league-high for 2020-21, highlighting the full-back’s defensive nous.
“I reckon it’s probably down to there being situations where I’ve needed to tackle but, in that moment, there have been more situations I have had when I have had to block shots and crosses,” he continued.
“I know there have been times in football where, if you don’t block a shot, it can go in. So, the best thing to do is simply to attempt to block every shot and every cross.
“I know you cannot just dive into any tackle. You’ve got to make sure you time it right. It is a case of always concentrating and making sure you are timing them right as well.
“It’s very good to hear, that I have had no bookings against me this season.”
Despite his obvious defensive strengths, there remain plenty of United fans unconvinced by Wan-Bissaka’s suitability as the club’s first choice at right-back due to his limited attacking output.
He had seemingly improved as an attacking outlet in his first season at United from his days at Crystal Palace, with chance creation up to 0.7 per 90 minutes from 0.4 and open play crosses increasing to three per game from 1.6.
But he is yet to record an assist this season and his 0.3 expected assists (xA) figure further highlights how little impact he has in the final third.
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