Alex Telles has been forced to wait to build on his promising Manchester United debut. For fans, the pause has been tantalising, given Telles’ excellent opening 67-minute performance and the huge reputation with which he arrived at Old Trafford.
Now we are about to truly discover the real Alex Telles.
It is not the scenario Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have wanted and, in fact, the United boss was utterly furious with the way Luke Shaw had picked up an injury at Everton. Solskjaer’s rant about the fixture schedule quickly went viral and overshadowed the 3-1 win at Goodison Park somewhat, though the news that Shaw is out for at least a month proves the United boss was right to be concerned.
It is a huge shame for Shaw, who was playing some of his best football in a United shirt and who must be cursing more maddeningly frustrating luck with injuries.
Football is all about opportunity, however, so as one door closes for Shaw, another opens. Enter Telles.
The 27-year-old’s record with previous club FC Porto suggests he is more than ready to take Shaw’s place and could even make it difficult for the England international when he’s fit again. It is precisely this situation that persuaded United to pay £13.6million plus add-ons for the Brazilian. Competition for places is key.
Telles first cropped up on United’s radar in 2014 when playing at Galatasaray and was monitored very closely since 2018 by numerous members of the club’s scouting team, especially by their Portuguese scout. United long regarded him as the best left-back in Portugal by a distance and now they’re about to find out if he can cut it in England.
His recovery from a bout of coronavirus, which has delayed his impact since that debut last month, is timely. First, he must get through international duty with Brazil unscathed in the next week.
But certainly Telles’ debut, when he played as a left wing-back against Paris Saint-Germain in that brilliant 2-1 win, suggested he has the raw materials to succeed. It was a position that suited him down to the ground, given his penchant for attacking more than defending. A record of 13 goals and 12 assists in all competitions for Porto last term reflects what Telles does best.
There is no way United should consider playing 3-5-2, as they did against PSG, every week simply to accommodate Telles. As shown against Everton, a four-man defence is enough for United to remain solid while releasing players further up the pitch. And Shaw has done just fine as an orthodox left-back.
Telles will be no mug there, either. He can play on the left of a flat back four, most likely alongside Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
But a diamond may suit Telles better than any of the other available systems when playing a four-man defence, allowing the Brazilian the room to gallop forward on the overlap, while keeping some protection for the central defenders. Either that or a narrow 4-3-3 in which the wingers drift inside and the full-backs are encouraged forward. It will be a balancing act between United and Telles, to get the most from the team and the player while keeping the balance that served them well at Everton.
United entered the international break by winning what was arguably their most important match of the season at Everton on Saturday.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat the Toffees thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
United have a two-week break with many of their stars heading off on international duty – we’ll be keeping tabs on how they all perform, and on preparations for their next Premier League match against West Brom.
For all the latest United news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to our daily newsletter by submitting your email address in the sign-up box above, or click here – it’s free and it only takes a few seconds.
Solskjaer said how much he admired Telles’ personal attributes when the signing was first announcement.
“He is a fighter and a winner and will add real determination and competition to the squad,” said the United boss.
“Alex has the qualities, both as a player and as a person, that we want here at Manchester United.”
Now Solskjaer is about to find out his tactical and technical qualities too, though he must get the system right to see another new signing flourish under his stewardship.