Manchester United have pressing needs to recruit a winger, centre-back, striker and central midfielder ahead of next season - but a quick and relatively cheap deal to bring Kieran Trippier back to England from Atletico Madrid could prove be a masterstroke for more than one reason.
Trippier has spent two seasons in Spain, winning La Liga as a key member of Atletico’s team last month, but is thought to be preparing himself for a move home. He has one year left on his contract and will be 31 in September, so a transfer is unlikely to be expensive or complicated.
It has been rumoured that he has already ‘made arrangements to permanently return to England and would ‘relish’ the opportunity to join United, the club much of his family is thought to support. Another report since suggests he has also told England teammates that he is keen.
For United, the addition of Trippier, if only on a one or two-year contract with the option of another, would significantly boost squad depth in a position where there is currently none.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka played every minute of 34 Premier League games in 2020/21. In the only games that he missed, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Victor Lindelof and Brandon Williams filled in. Fosu-Mensah has since left, Lindelof is primarily a centre-back and Williams is primarily a left-back.
United’s only other senior right-back is Diogo Dalot, who spent the season on loan with AC Milan after he was surprisingly frozen out during the previous campaign.
Trippier is proven is proven at a very good level. Not only has he won La Liga, he played in the 2019 Champions League final for Tottenham and scored in a World Cup semi-final for England.
He would add invaluable attributes to the United squad that aren’t already there. His set piece delivery and crossing from open play are both superb and could bring back qualities that the team has long been missing. The thought of Trippier hitting pinpoint crosses into Edinson Cavani sounds like a match made in heaven, while United might finally be a threat from corners.
Then there is the notion of competition for places and what Trippier’s arrival could specifically do for Wan-Bissaka. The former Crystal Palace star underwhelmed in 2020/21 and aspects of his game showed weakness. He is still a phenomenal one-on-one tackler, but his defensive awareness and man marking in the penalty area is poor, costing United several goals during the campaign. He also lacks enough cutting edge and quality going forward, despite upping both his goals and assists.
United need only look to the other side of the defence to see the huge impact that signing Alex Telles from Porto last October had on Luke Shaw for reference. Shaw had his best season in a United shirt by some distance as a result and was even named in the PFA team of the year.
If Trippier could push Wan-Bissaka in a similar way and create that level of competition on the right, United could potentially end up with the best set of full-backs in the Premier League.
But there is also scope to have them both in the same XI, offering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more tactical flexibility. Trippier is typically a conventional right-back, yet he has also operated as a wing-back flanking a trio of centre-backs, notably for England at the last World Cup.
A back three system is one that Solskjaer has experimented with in recent season, but it is a difficult one to do well and wing-backs are usually a main reason why it succeeds or fails. Wan-Bissaka doesn’t have the attacking prowess to maximise that role, but he could certainly be utiliised as a third centre-back in such a system, with a wing-back like Trippier outside him.
That would hide plenty of Wan-Bissaka’s weaknesses and remove the pressure on him to be an attacking threat, which is not his forte. It could also help Harry Maguire, as being positioned in the centre of a three would mask his lack of pace and highlight his strengths, assuming then that a new left-sided centre-back – Pau Torres from Villarreal, perhaps – would line up on his other side.
Trippier isn’t a long-term solution for United. But signing him would be an opportunistic and efficient way to improve the squad without taking focus away from the more expensive longer term needs.