Manchester United beat Southampton today in a game that perfectly demonstrated why Erik ten Hag wants to sign Antony.
A 1-0 win via Bruno Fernandes converting a Diogo Dalot cross was indicative of United’s game plan to exploit Southampton’s difficulties at left-back.
Moussa Djenepo – a tricky winger – has been used at the left of the Southampton defence so far this season in the absence of a natural in the position.
United set out to expose his positional awareness by building play on their own left-hand side, often relying on Jadon Sancho’s dribbling ability to draw defenders towards him.
The former Borussia Dortmund winger was remarkably effective at doing so, often acting as the ‘hook’ on which the Red Devils’ attack could hang.
At several points in the first half, Christian Eriksen would drift towards Sancho to offer a short passing option before switching play out to United’s right – Southampton’s potential weakness in Djenepo.
However this did not bear fruit the way it should have done, with Anthony Elanga struggling to get the better of the makeshift defender.
Djenepo did play well, it should be said, but it is easy to see how United could have created far more chances than they did manage against Southampton had a winger confident in one-on-one situations been available on that flank.
As discussed in the United Matchday Magazine, one of Ten Hag’s favourite ploys at Ajax was the use of an ‘isolator’ on one flank to exploit weaknesses in an opposition defence.
This is still a viable option to him at Old Trafford, but only really if the opposition’s right is the flank he wishes to exploit.
On Monday night, first Elanga and then Marcus Rashford played the isolator role, exposing Liverpool’s right channel and the positional deficiencies of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez.
But United simply lack such an option on the right.
Jadon Sancho can play on the right, of course, but while he is comfortable in one-on-one situations, he lacks the raw pace to get away from defenders once he has fooled them.
Whichever flank he plays on, he is best used as a ‘hook,’ drawing defenders to him, shifting opposing structures and opening gaps elsewhere for himself and United’s pass-masters to exploit.
Antony was used by Ten Hag in the isolator role to fantastic effect at Ajax, as, among his other qualities, he is tricky, clever, and quick.
Should United sign their second Brazilian of the summer, Ten Hag will have gained the capacity to isolate fullbacks on either side.
So although Manchester United did get the win today, it only shows why they are prepared to go above €90m to get their man.