August 20, 2022

Louis van Gaal once described him as “a pit bull”. Ajax winger Antony called him ‘a good defender and a tough opponent’. It is believed that Erik ten Hag pestered an Ajax coach to take extra notes on him during De Klassieker, such was his impressive performance.

Manchester United’s first signing this summer is left-back Tyrell Malacia, who joins Feyenoord on an initial four-year deal worth €15m (£12.7m).

“It’s an incredible feeling to have joined Manchester United,” Malacia said during his official unveiling. “It’s a new chapter for me, a new league with new teammates and a great manager leading us. Playing against his teams in the Eredivisie, I know the qualities he has and what he demands from his players. .

Here’s a tactical guide to United’s new left-back.


What is Malacia good at?

Having made his senior debut for Feyenoord in 2017, Malacia has gone on to become one of the fastest players in the Dutch league. His standout trait is his superb athleticism. He had already made over 130 senior appearances for Feyenoord and often dominates the left flank with powerful runs. Few players escape Van Gaal’s scorn after a poor result, but Malacia was described as one of the few players to perform well after the Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Germany in March.

Use of smarterscout data – which rates players from zero to 99, either relating to how often they do a given action compared to others playing on their behalf (such as ball recoveries and interceptions) or their effectiveness (like how they move the ball upwards) – we can take a closer look at what makes Malacia tick.

Here’s what the graph tells you about Malacia’s final season

  • Malacia is a modern attacking full-back, capable of both receiving (receptions into the opposition box on the graph) and delivering (expected goals from ball progression) the ball into dangerous areas around the opposition penalty area. He can send crosses from deep and wide areas on the left, and he is becoming more adept at providing runs from below for his winger and winning the ball back in central areas of midfield.
  • He likes a hit (hit volume). Despite registering just one goal and five assists in all competitions last season, he was a constant attacking threat for Feyenoord, making the UEFA Conference League Team of the Tournament after finished second.
  • He is a good dribbler (carrying and dribbling volume) who takes care of the ball when carrying it into dangerous areas (ball retention). Standing at 5ft 7in, his low center of gravity and tough running style make him hard to dispossess once he gets a head of steam.
  • He is also a solid defender, capable of defending the space in front of him (disruption of opposing movements) and of being aggressive in his one-on-one duels (defensive intensity and impact). In defence, Malacia prefers to approach a winger in a sideways motion, blocking all passing lanes to the center of the pitch and driving them forward down the line. One of the fastest defenders in the Dutch top flight, Malacia often bets on himself to beat an attacker in a run before making a sliding tackle at a key moment. It can be risky – Malacia isn’t always good at timing his tackles and often relies on his recovery pace to get him out of previous poor positioning.

The 2021-22 season has seen Malacia make huge strides in his attacking game, with Feyenoord manager Arne Slot asking him to take more forward positions down the left. The 22-year-old has formed a great working partnership with Leeds United-linked Luis Sinisterra. The Colombian winger often cut inside and entered the penalty area after Malacia provided an overlapping run.

“He likes to play the low and cut center”, explains the Dutch journalist Lentin Goodijk. “Slot has sometimes asked Malacia to come inside to get more midfield manpower, similar to the role Noussair Mazraoui played successfully under Erik ten Hag at Ajax. Malacia could develop that sense of position and orientation Malacia is a defender who likes to defend first, and if needed has the pace and stamina to move forward and back.

Away from the pitch, Malacia is seen as a cool head who likes to read crime novels in her spare time. He is friends with Hakim Ziyech and gravitates around Georginio Wijnaldum when he is in the national team.

Malacia has already spoken of her admiration for Patrice Evra. He has a style of play not too different from the French.

Malacia has the physical ability to dominate the left side in defense and attack when needed, and the technical ability to one day play as an inverted full-back similar to Joao Cancelo at Manchester City.


What is he not so good at?

A good example of the good and not so good of Malacia came in the Europa Conference League final against Roma. Tasked with halting the attacking progress of Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo and supporting Sinisterra’s goalscoring exploits, Malacia won the ball in good areas of the pitch…

But he stumbled trying to break down Roma’s tough defence. Feyenoord wanted Malacia and Sinisterra to attack the space behind Roma right-back Rick Karsdorp and collect the ball just outside the penalty area. Malacia attempted six crosses from open play in the final, but only one successfully hit another teammate.

There wasn’t much Malacia could do about Zaniolo’s winning goal in the final, but he also missed it a bit when he ran away from crosses on the opposition’s left side. (Take note of his low score for aerial duels in the previous smarterscout chart.)

“His decision-making in small spaces could also improve,” adds Goodijk. “But his composure has definitely improved.”

Malacia’s eagerness to push forward can leave him and his team vulnerable when they lose possession. Ten Hag will have to work on the naivety of the full-back during moments of defensive transition.


How does Malacia compare to other United left-backs?

Few United defenders looked good in 2021-22, but Luke Shaw’s problem was one of availability rather than quality of play. He missed 18 games in total last season through injury and was unavailable for the final eight matches of Ralf Rangnick’s interim spell as he recovered from leg surgery.

When Shaw played for United, he was a far cry from the thrilling left-back who dazzled in the 2020-21 campaign, but he remained vital to how the team progressed the ball (volume of carry and dribble, xG of ball progress in the table below). Like many United players last season, he missed tackles he would have made in 2020-21 and found himself overwhelmed with too many defensive duties when United lost possession.

The 2022-23 season will be the ninth at United for the 26-year-old. Malacia has probably been signed to replace the Englishman but the young Dutchman offers a viable alternative to Shaw.

Shaw’s prolonged absence meant Alex Telles started games at left-back almost by default, but the 29-year-old enjoyed a torrid 2021-22. His obvious defensive weaknesses have been exploited by several teams.

In isolation, Telles has moderate attacking qualities: he has good ball-striking ability which he uses to cross the ball and set-pieces and he can pass to a respectable degree. He also showed promise when winning the ball in central areas…

… but rarely convinced when asked to contribute to United’s builder’s play (linking play volume).

Telles also lacks the ability to carry Shaw’s ball down the left (carrying and dribbling volume), making him a standout left-back compared to Shaw’s more collegiate approach. In United’s 0-0 draw with Watford, Telles was too slow to acknowledge Jadon Sancho’s demands for overlapping runs, leaving the winger frustrated and easy to defend. He also had a particularly difficult time in United’s 4-0 humiliation against Brighton, where he was twice warned by Rangnick of Leandro Trossard’s intentions to cut inside, but didn’t do much. -something to stop the Belgian’s incursions into space in front of the penalty area.

Telles lacks the intensity to win the majority of his one-on-one defensive duels (see his defensive intensity and ball recovery scores above), and he’s often too naïve when defending space. In United’s loss to Roma in the second leg of the 2020-21 Europa League semi-finals, he was far too narrow when defending crosses leading to chances for the Italian side which then been operated by Premier League teams.

Brandon Williams has returned to United after a loan spell at Norwich. Right-footed left-back (he was advised to swap positions at the United academy to avoid competition with Ethan Laird), the 21-year-old has become a full-back who likes to win the ball back in the left half -space before advancing (look at his carry and dribbling score).

Williams isn’t quite as good as Shaw or Malacia in one-on-one duels on the ground or in the air, but defends with an intensity that would likely see him slip past Telles in the left-back line-up. he opted to stay for the 2022-23 season. Age remains on his side and his technical ability plays in his favor.

If Ten Hag is to turn United into a team that attacks and defends collectively and consistently, he is more likely to play Malacia ahead of Telles in the coming season.


What does Malacia’s arrival say about United’s style of play next season?

The imminent arrival of Christian Eriksen, coupled with the pursuit of Frenkie de Jong and Lisandro Martinez, suggests that the new United manager is looking to raise the technical floor within the United squad, before choosing a system and asking for the ankles squares to fit into round holes.

If we use Ten Hag’s use of Daley Blind at Ajax as a guide, whoever starts at left-back for United will be asked not only to attack and defend on the left, but also to receive the ball in the central areas and help build the team. -up and passing the ball forward. Shaw and Malacia will be strong candidates for the role. Such and Williams, less.

Malacia is young enough and talented enough to be molded into an ideal Ten Hag fullback. He is a player of the future who can also make positive contributions today.

(Top photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)