He would be a perfect fit for Solskjaer’s side.
Now that the curse of Jose Mourinho has been lifted from Old Trafford, it is a lot easier to identify the club’s problems on the pitch. During Mourinho’s final few months at Manchester United, the team were playing several levels below themselves.
It has since been proven that the manager, and not the players, was the issue.
In Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s five games as United manager, the players have looked reborn – particularly Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. Even Nemanja Matic, a player who looked ready for MLS under Mourinho, has been passing the ball forward and snapping into tackles
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 7, 2019
However, there remains one problem position for Solskjaer and the club – right-back.
Antonio Valencia, the club captain, is no longer fit for purpose, and an Irish player could be the solution to the problem for United.
Valencia turns 34 in August and has only featured eight times for the club this season due to injuries. A converted winger, the Ecuadorian was moved back into the full-back position by Louis van Gaal in 2014.
Valencia was ideal for Mourinho, who scoffed at Manchester City for spending over £100m on two attacking full-backs in 2017, because he was defensively solid.
The Portuguese coach was happy to persist with veteran converted wingers Valencia and Ashley Young while the rest of the top-six have zippy full-backs capable of delivering in both phases of play. Mourinho instead saw central defence as the source of United’s woes.
Since his departure, that has been largely debunked. Victor Lindelof is improving with every game and Eric Bailly still has the potential to excel in the position. During the 2-0 victory over Newcastle United, it was the right-back position, and not United’s central defenders, that looked in need of an upgrade.
Valencia appeared sluggish and contributed very little in the final third. On the other flank, Luke Shaw was a constant attacking outlet. The England full-back completed 86 of his 97 passes in the game – only Matic made more passes in the match – and completed 18 passes in the final third. Valencia completed just four passes in the final third and just 40 in total. He was a peripheral figure in the game, registering almost half as many touches as Shaw.
Valencia has also been cautious in the final third for some time – possibly due to Mourinho’s restrictive tactics. He often checks back inside to play a safe pass and his crossing has been generally poor.
An accomplished footballer under Alex Ferguson, Valencia is simply past his best. It happens to every player eventually and it doesn’t diminish his contribution over the last nine and a half seasons at Old Trafford.
With United’s new adventurous style, Valencia could become a weak link and target for opposition attacks. There is also a risk that they could become over-reliant on Shaw on the other flank to mount attacks and become too predictable. Both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are essential to Liverpool’s attack, and the team wouldn’t be as potent with just one of the two in the team.
In short, United need an upgrade on Valencia and could do with signing one this month to help mount their unlikely push for Champions League qualification. Diogo Dalot is talented, but he has played less than 50 senior games.
Solskjaer could do with a right-back in his peak years and Matt Doherty could be the answer.
Doherty has had an excellent campaign so far with Wolverhampton Wanderers and could easily end up being selected in the Premier League’s team of the season. The Dubliner has scored three goals and registered four assists in 21 league appearances.
Playing as a wing-back, Doherty is a constant attacking outlet for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. It would be difficult to find another defender who has had 28 shots this season and has created 26 scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Wolves’ wing-back system suits Doherty perfectly and the Republic of Ireland international has become an integral part of the side. He was brilliant during the recent 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
After Spurs took the lead, Doherty was arguably the best player on the pitch.
The 26-year-old registered an assist and had more passes in the final third than any of his teammates. The timing of his runs helped cut through Tottenham time and time again and no Wolves player had more touches in the match (75).
Doherty also managed to keep Son Heung-min quiet, an impressive accomplishment as the Spurs’ forward has been the division’s most in-form player over the last month.
It wasn’t an anomaly either. Doherty has been excellent all season and has become one of Wolves’ most important players – an impressive feat considering he signed for the club for £75,000 from Bohemians in 2010 and has had loan spells with Hibernian and Bury.
Doherty is fulfilling his potential after a couple of patchy seasons earlier in the career.
In September 2017, he extended his contract with Wolves until 2021.
According to The Irish Independent, Doherty is in talks with the club over a new deal that would see him double his wages and Jorge Mendes, who represents Cristiano Ronaldo and Mourinho, could become his agent.
Tottenham are reportedly monitoring his situation. They are one of several Premier League clubs who have been impressed with his form this season.
The Dubliner is Wolves’ longest-serving player and there is no suggestion that he is seeking a move away.
However, considering how he has excelled in the Premier League this season, there is also nothing to suggest that he couldn’t make the step-up once again if given the opportunity at a club in the Champions League.
Doherty is the energetic, aggressive and attacking full-back, who delivers in the final third, that Man United badly need on the right side of their defence. He would be an ideal fit for the team’s new approach, even if he is unlikely to leave Wolves this month.