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Friday 23 October 2020 17:43, UK
Alex Telles could make his Premier League debut against Chelsea on Saturday Night Football – but what will he bring to Manchester United's defence?
Manchester United have signed Alex Telles to bolster their beleaguered defence – but will the Brazilian make a name for himself at the other end of the pitch instead?
Telles has long been linked with a move to the Premier League, first cropping up on Chelsea’s radar in 2015 while a promising youngster at Galatasaray. But in more recent years, he has been busy impressing on the Iberian peninsula, scoring 21 goals across five seasons from left-back for Porto.
United have finally got their man after a protracted battle to secure his signature, and the remaining length on his Porto contract – which expires next June – seemingly played its part.
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Now entering the prime of his career at 27, can Telles fulfil club legend Ryan Giggs’ prediction that the left-back can provide a level of quality Manchester United “have been missing” in recent years – starting with their Saturday Night Football clash with Chelsea, live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event?
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A textbook Brazilian full-back?
It is no secret that Telles’ strengths lie in his attacking output. No-one has made more goals since Porto moved into the Estadio do Dragao back in 2003 than the Brazilian, whose heritage offers more than a nod to his style of play.
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Roberto Carlos, Marcelo, Dani Alves, and countless more of his countrymen have taken the game to the opposition from full-back in recent years, while notable figures, including Danilo and Alex Sandro, have done so in the blue of Porto. Telles is little different, racking up 11 goals and eight assists in the Primeira Liga last season.
Now donning Manchester United’s red, there is certainly a strong case to be made about how the Brazilian can improve their backline, as much when they have the ball than when they do not.
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“You look at Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson and the goals and assists that they provide,” Giggs – among United’s most productive attacking outlets of all time – told the Webby and O’Neill podcast. “In Telles, I think that’s something we’ve been missing
“Now, full-backs have to have that in their armour. If the wingers are coming in, the full-backs have to create the width and make goals.”
While Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams, the club’s two regular left-backs in 2019/20, failed to register a single assist between them across the campaign, Telles was busy attempting an average of 10 crosses per game down the Porto left, completing around a quarter.
Even so, his impressive output should come with a word of caution; Telles has long had something approaching free-reign over Porto’s set-pieces. Eight of his 11 goals in 2019/20 came from the penalty spot – something Bruno Fernandes may have something to say about at Old Trafford – and six of his eight assists from set-pieces.
In fact, Shaw’s rate of chance creation in open play outstripped the Brazilian by about 25 per cent – but aside from a brief flurry of four assists in a 2018/19 campaign where the ex-Southampton man shone, his seven years at Old Trafford have rarely showcased the attacking promise he displayed up and down the left flank in his younger years on the south coast, and certainly nowhere near the extent of the new arrival.
“Although he is a left defender, Telles has been an essential part of Porto’s offensive game,” Andre Monteiro, who covers Porto for national Portuguese newspaper Record, told Sky Sports. “His whipped crosses are excellent and very difficult to defend.”
Another issue to bear in mind is the direct comparison between different clubs and leagues, but just as Porto spent much of 2019/20 dominating possession, so too did Manchester United – albeit they often wished they did not, winning only 11 of 28 games where they had the majority of the ball.
Having an additional attacking prong of the quality of Telles could provide a useful spark when looking to unpick the kind of low block which has often frustrated them under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.