Manchester United full-back Brandon Williams has been linked with a loan away from Old Trafford for the second time in a matter of months as the January transfer window approaches.
Williams played 36 times for the first-team in a breakout 2019/20 campaign, but his playing time so far in 2020/21 has been significantly limited.
Luke Shaw has suffered another injury setback, although October signing Alex Telles looks likely to become the new regular starter at left-back instead. Williams has the versatility to play on the right, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka is virtually undroppable on that side.
More regular games will likely be better for Williams in terms of his immediate development than spending most of his time at United on the bench as a back-up.
United shouldn’t be short without him because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown a willingness to use Axel Tuanzebe in both full-back roles as extra cover already this season, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah is still in the squad and there could be an opportunity for Ethan Laird to develop. Teden Mengi, although naturally a centre back, is another who could get chances as a full-back.
Southampton have been credited with interest by The Athletic and there appear to be pros and cons for United sending Williams to the south coast.
Ralph Hasenhuttl is noted for his development of young players after arriving in England after a spell at RB Leipzig, as are Southampton as a club in general.
The Saints do lack depth at full-back and central defender Dale Stephens had to fill in on the left in the November win over Newcastle when Ryan Bertrand was out. But Bertrand and Kyle Walker-Peters are very much the starters, missing only one Premier League game between them.
If Williams isn’t getting action at United, it would arguably worse to move on loan in search of game time and still be predominantly sat on the bench. There is also the added issue of whether United could view Southampton as a rival in the hunt for European places this season.
4. Sheffield United
Sheffield United have seen first-hand how effective Williams can be, with a 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane last November arguably his breakout Premier League performance.
The Blades are struggling this season compared to their surprise form on returning to the top flight in 2019/20, with an injury to centre-back Jack O’Connell further derailing the tactical system that had previously served Chris Wilder’s team so well.
O’Connell’s absence has forced Enda Stevens to shift in from his usual left wing-back role. But with Stevens himself also nursing an injury, the defensive unit as a whole needs reinforcing.
It wouldn’t be easy for Williams joining a team nailed to the foot of the table, having picked up just one point this season and losing 12 of their last 13 Premier League games stretching back to the closing stages of ‘Project Restart’ in summer. But the prospect of regular playing time is there.
3. West Brom
West Brom are another struggling side who could potentially offer Williams much more playing time than he is currently getting, with Kieran Gibbs out of favour since September and an injury to current left wing-back starter Conor Townsend highlighting a possible lack of depth.
The Baggies finally secured a first Premier League win since promotion by beating Sheffield United in their last game, but it still promises to be a tough season at The Hawthorns and the more options and competition for places the better, especially in the current climate.
Moving to the west midlands would allow Williams to stay closer to home and his family and friends than if he were to a club like Southampton or ended up somewhere in London.
That might not sound like a big deal, but young players rely on solid support networks.
Everton could be considered a direct rival to United as a result of their general resurgence this season, but a full-back crisis could make the Toffees an appropriate place for Williams to be exposed to more regular playing time in a less stressful environment than a relegation battle.
Everton have recently lost starting left back Lucas Digne for the next two or three months, which means the Frenchman may not return to action until late February or early March.
Seamus Coleman has also had fitness concerns and, despite sticking with three centre-backs, Everton were forced to play without proper wing-backs in their recent loss to Leeds.
Working with Carlo Ancelotti, with all the top level experience he has and the impact he has clearly had on a developing player like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, would be a good but incredibly rare opportunity for Williams to learn from all-time great manager.
Having been linked with Williams already over the summer, Leeds are tactically fluid enough that there could be opportunities for the United youngster were he to move on loan.
Stuart Dallas has been Marcelo Bielsa’s preferred left back when utilising a conventional back four, but Dallas has also played a lot in various midfield roles when the system has changed.
It would open the door for Williams to operate as normal full-back, a wing-back on either side, which he has done previously in his fledgling career. His defensive tenacity even offers the potential to play as an auxiliary centre-back in a back three.
There is the issue of the longstanding rivalry between the two Uniteds, but at least Leeds aren’t a competitive threat in the way they once used to be and the clubs have often done business.