Antonio Valencia‘s days at Manchester United are coming to an end, after the Ecuador international revealed he’d be leaving this summer on a free transfer – no contract extension has been offered to the 33-year-old.
With over 300 appearances, 10 trophies, various individual accolades and more in his 10-year tenure at Old Trafford, his presence will be sorely missed.
Ashley Young cannot be relied upon as their first-choice, as the Englishman is also getting older and struggles defensively against better opposition. Matteo Darmian, who joined from Torino in 2015, has failed to command a starting berth and is widely expected to depart this summer too.
The only reliable player at right-back is Portuguese youngster Diogo Dalot, who signed for £19m from Porto last summer. Dalot, 20, is injury-prone and not yet ready to play a full season so it’s important the club address their need for defensive reinforcements – signing another to feature as welcome competition at the Theatre of Dreams. With that in mind, here’s a look at five fullbacks United could target this summer to replace Valencia:
#5 Yann Valery (Southampton)
The young French defender had a decent Premier League debut campaign with Southampton, while displaying the pedigree to become a world-class fullback in the coming years. Despite being part of a struggling Southampton side who flirted with relegation often, he regularly provided the spark down the right-hand side.
He made 23 league appearances, scoring twice and creating one assist – a wonder goal against Manchester United among his season highlights. The 20-year-old would provide competition for Dalot, which could help get the best out of both youngsters.
He’d be following in the footsteps of Luke Shaw, who made the same move from Southampton to United back in 2014. His explosiveness, technical ability and defensive strengths made him an ideal acquisition, not to mention being so young and a worthwhile long-term investment.
#4 Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)
The Portuguese international enjoyed an exceptional debut campaign for Leicester, having joined for £17.5m (£4m in add-ons) from Porto last summer. He made 35 league appearances – with his speed, trickery and dribbling qualities down the right-hand side causing havoc for opposition defences to contend with.
He netted two goals and created seven assists, while his creativity could prove an added advantage to United. They have lacked that cutting edge from the flanks in recent seasons and at 25, there’s no reason why he couldn’t rule the roost at right-back for the foreseeable future.
With that being said, he’s a relatively new signing and Brendan Rodgers would be expecting a huge transfer fee to prise him away – not least with England international Ben Chilwell widely expected to depart for rivals City too this summer.
#3 Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Since joining Tottenham from Burnley in 2015, Kieran Trippier has developed into one of the league’s finest right-backs. Initially signed as an understudy for Kyle Walker, the England fullback finally earned his opportunity centre-stage after Walker’s £50m move to champions Manchester City during the summer of 2017.
Having nailed his place as first-choice for both club and country at right-back, his brilliance forced Gareth Southgate to use Walker in central defence at last year’s World Cup in Russia to accommodate the pair into his plans.
He chipped in with three assists and a goal this past season in England’s top-flight. Given his credentials and ever-increasing experience, he could prove a shrewd acquisition by United – though Spurs are unlikely to want to sell him to one of their league rivals.
#2 Thomas Meunier (Paris-Saint Germain)
Since joining from Club Brugge in 2016, Thomas Meunier has been impressive for Paris-Saint Germain. His exceptional performances for the Ligue 1 champions earned him a place in Belgium’s World Cup squad, who finished third in Russia last year.
Despite being plagued by troublesome injuries, he has made 30 appearances (all comps) this term, with five goals and seven assists to date. As a converted winger, Meunier could prove a tailor-made replacement for Valencia, who too was originally played further forward at Wigan before being converted.
Meunier admitted in an interview that he supports Manchester United and would love to play in England one day. Having been linked with a move away from the French capital again this summer, this could present an opportune time for United to pounce and sign one of the world’s best right-backs at a time of need.
At 27, Meunier would provide some much-needed experience within their squad and his presence could help to boost their credentials as a title-chasing side – that has appeared to be lacking recently for the Red Devils.
#1 Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been a sensation since making his debut for Crystal Palace in 2017. He was an ever-present figure in the Premier League for Roy Hodgson’s side this season, missing only three matches (hamstring strain).
Wan-Bissaka proved instrumental down the right-hand side for the Eagles, though their lack of progression is a worry – he’s likely to consider his options and want a step-up in quality soon, despite committing the immediate future to staying in south London. Naturally, his impressive displays have not gone unnoticed and he has been linked with many of Europe’s elite, including Borussia Dortmund and United themselves.
Wan-Bissaka posted impressive statistics this season, averaging 3.7 tackles, 3.7 clearances and 2.4 interceptions per game. He created chances galore, though a lowly four assists doesn’t do his creativity justice after an excellent season. His workrate, speed and technical ability fit the United mould perfectly, though he will not come cheap – not least given his superior defensive qualities.