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Diogo Dalot represents a chance for Jose Mourinho to prove that he is willing to trust youngsters at Manchester United, and phase out the old guard.
The 19-year-old Portuguese moved to Old Trafford for a fee of £19 million from FC Porto in the summer, after seven senior appearances.
Capable of playing on either side of the defence, he has struggled with injuries so far this season but featured against BSC Young Boys in September and in the penalty-shootout defeat to Derby County.
Despite an impressive victory against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, Mourinho is under increasing pressure – a 3-1 loss to city-rivals Manchester City last time out did little to help his cause.
In recent years, he has gained a reputation for not trusting young players, instead opting to use tried-and-tested regulars of yesteryear. It is fair to assume that he is not as bold with his team selections and in the transfer market as, say, Pep Guardiola.
Dalot, Fred and reserve goalkeeper Lee Grant were the only players to move to the red side of Manchester last summer.
Mourinho certainly has depth on either side of his back four: Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Dalot all provide different qualities. Shaw, though, has been subject of derision from the Portuguese for much of his time at the club.
A theory as to why he does not trust young players to steer his teams out of bad phases – such as being in eighth, 12 points off top spot – results from his time as Real Madrid manager.
After an excellent 2011-12 season, in which his Blancos won La Liga ahead of Barcelona, the following campaign did not start nearly as well – an argument with captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas made things even worse.
He had formed a treaty with Barcelona captain Xavi, to make sure El Clasico matches did not become too violent. Long story short, Mourinho benched his skipper as punishment, for what he perceived as weakness, in favour of Antonio Adan, but the 24-year-old flattered to deceive and he was forced to re-install the Spaniard; he rowed with Sergio Ramos and Pepe during this time.
After leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, he returned to Chelsea for a second stint in charge in 2013. In his first season back in West London, he signed Samuel Eto’o and loaned out Romelu Lukaku, sold Kevin De Bruyne to VfL Wolfsburg and also loaned out future regulars Victor Moses and Kurt Zouma, amongst others.
His choice to continue with an experienced and, supposedly, risk-free side, has continued through to the present day. At the start of the season, United’s squad boasted 3009 cumulative appearances, the most in the Premier League and nearly a thousand more than City’s (2162).
Dalot is, some would say, not yet ready for a regular berth in the United defence, but it can also be argued that he would bring about a change in fortunes going forward, as well as defensively: Mourinho’s side has scored 20 goals, one less than Bournemouth, and conceded 21 compared to City’s five.
Over the last three seasons, Valencia has gradually completed less dribbles per 90 minutes, making 1.3 in 2016-17 compared to 0.8 this time around. He has also had less shots this season compared to 2017-18 (0.3 compared to 0.5), which suggests that he is not the force going forward that he once was.
Defensively, in 2016-17 he made more tackles (2.4), more clearances (2.1), more blocks (0.3) and less fouls (1.2) than he has managed this campaign.
Dalot is recovering from a foot injury, but hinted at a swift return with a post on Instagram, in which he said he is “almost back”.
With Valencia evidently less effective as he once was, it is time for Mourinho to follow Guardiola’s model at the Etihad Stadium and trust Dalot at right-back. The former-Barcelona manager sold full-backs Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov, and has enjoyed success with Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy.
After losing 3-1 to City last time out, Mourinho will be looking to make a statement with his team selection against Crystal Palace this weekend – Dalot is an opportunity for him to do just that.
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