The goal England scored inside two minutes of the European Championship final might have sent excitement levels soaring amongst Manchester United fans.
Not because it looked like football was coming home at that point – there is widespread apathy to the national team in the United fanbase – but for what it could signal for next season.
Slamming a half-volley in at the back post was Luke Shaw, probably the best left-back in the tournament and confirming his rise over the previous 18 months to the level of world-class, as a defensive full-back and as an increasingly effective attacking threat. As well as that goal he ended Euro 2020 with three assists.
Creating Shaw’s goal was Kieran Trippier. Wing-back to wing-back looked like an early justification for Gareth Southgate’s system but more importantly for United it was a sign of Trippier’s quality in the final third and why he is a major target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in this transfer window.
A year and a half ago it was clear United needed more from their full-backs if they were to ascend to the next level. Bruno Fernandes added a major injection of creativity but teams don’t want major titles now without a real attacking threat from full-back, such as Liverpool in 2019/20, or by using a full-back to push more players forward elsewhere, as Manchester City did last season.
Shaw was transformed last term as an attacking threat, both in open play and from set pieces. On the right Aaron Wan-Bissaka is improving, but he doesn’t carry the same danger. His crossing is inconsistent and he doesn’t look comfortable in attacking situations. As an attacking full-back Trippier would be an upgrade.
United are looking for a double raid on Madrid to strengthen their defence, but the pursuit of Raphael Varane from Real is further advanced than prizing Trippier away from Atletico. But the Bury-born defender’s contract situation and desire to join United, his boyhood club, makes a deal more probable than not towards the end of the window.
The battle between Wan-Bissaka and Trippier would be a close one, although the latter is arguably as good defensively, given he’s been a key cog in a title-winning team under Diego Simeone. He would certainly offer more going forward.
According to FBRef scouting report data for last season, Trippier is in the 89th percentile for shot-creating actions – meaning only 11 out of 100 full-backs would rank above him – while Wan-Bissaka is in the 39th percentile. For progressive passes Trippier is in the 99th percentile and Wan-Bissaka the 41st. There’s no doubt the Atletico Madrid right-back’s first thought is to look forward.
His crossing is also excellent and he’s been a major threat from corners for England and his club sides. He’s swung in 142 crosses in two seasons in La Liga, with Wan-Bissaka putting in 128 in that time at United. At Tottenham Trippier recorded 195 crosses in two seasons.
That crossing ability from open play, particularly from deeper areas if United find themselves struggling to break down a deep defence, could be particularly valuable with Edinson Cavani in the team. The 34-year-old’s heading ability is outstanding.
Six of his 10 Premier League goals last season were scored with his head, as well as his second in the Europa League semi-final second leg in Rome. What so many of them feature is the world-class movement that allows him to find space in the penalty box, noticeably against Southampton and Everton at home and Tottenham and Aston Villa away.
If he continues to make those runs and find that space next season, with Trippier ready to get his head up and look for him early, it could prove to be a fruitful combination for United.