Forget Greenwood: Why 18-year-old could be a star in the making for Man Utd
One of the most exciting signings of the summer transfer window, at least as far as Manchester United fans are concerned, was one that was essentially delayed until this January. United agreed a deal with Atalanta to bring 18-year-old Amad Diallo to Old Trafford in January, for a fee that could rise to as high as €41 million with add-ons. This represents a significant outlay on a player who has only played 59 minutes in his senior career, and therefore United fans should not expect him to slot in straightaway into the lineup. However, alongside fellow 18-year-old Facundo Pellistri, who was also recruited during this summer window, Diallo could be a long-term solution to the problematic right wing position for the club, and he was definitely one of the hottest prospects in Atalanta’s academy, with a number of European clubs keeping an eye on his progress. Manchester United have stolen a march on them in that regard, but now comes the difficult task of helping him integrate and realise his potential. This scout report will attempt to dissect Diallo’s style of play, strengths and weaknesses, to help fans understand how and where the Ivorian is most threatening, and what to expect from him when he does appear for the club over the rest of the season.
Playing and statistical profile
Diallo is a left-footed player who has predominantly featured on the right flank, as his heatmap shows –
It is also interesting to note that Diallo seems comfortable enough on his right foot as well, which does raise the prospect of him going outside the full-back to deliver a cross, rather than looking to cut inside all the time, as has been his predominant move so far in his career, based on the heatmap. It must be remembered that Diallo has largely played in a 3-4-3, where the responsibility to provide width was on the wing-backs, thus freeing him up to move inside. That may not be the case at United, especially with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back, and so it is important that Diallo develops the ability to hold the width on the right as well as coming infield when an opportunity presents itself.
When looking at his career statistics so far, it is important to note that the vast majority of this is in age-group football, with Diallo having only played 59 minutes of senior football in his career, as mentioned previously. Thus, these numbers should not be taken as an indication of how good or bad he is at something, but rather as a way to identify traits, as well as strong and weak areas. As with any 18-year-old, Diallo still has some growing to do, both physically and mentally, and that will change his output on the field.
Having said that, what immediately stands out when looking at Diallo’s numbers is his incredible dribbling ability. The Ivorian has attempted 9.01 dribbles/90 minutes in his career so far, at a 54.25% success rate. Both of these are incredible, and while he is unlikely to maintain this when he starts featuring regularly for United, it is still an indication that Diallo is very good at beating defenders 1v1. This is important, since United have lacked a dynamic attacking presence on the right for some time now, which has led to the majority of the side’s attacking play being focused down the left. Oppponents know this, and therefore are able to adjust their defensive strategies accordingly, leaving United’s right flank relatively open, safe in the knowledge that dangerous attacks are unlikely to develop down that side. Of course, we must once again state that Diallo is nowhere near ready to start making a difference for United, but his underlying characteristics make for a promising player, if United can harness those strengths properly. He is averaging 0.73 goal involvements (goals + assists) per 90 minutes thus far, which is another healthy indicator. His 14 goals have come against an expected goals (xG) value of 13.07, suggesting that he is a reliable finisher, while he has notched 11 assists against an expected assist (xA) value of 11.64, which indicates that his teammates have generally taken the chances he has laid on for them – this could both be due to the quality of the chance itself as well as his teammates’ finishing ability. Nevertheless, these are encouraging signs for United, as they suggest that Diallo can be a player who can both score and create in almost equal measure.
Another statistic which can help us understand his playing profile is the number of crosses he makes per 90 minutes. Diallo has averaged just 1.59 crosses/90, albeit at an impressive success rate of 42.6%. This may be down to the aforementioned fact that Atalanta’s wing-backs are the ones needing to provide width, and therefore the inside forwards/wingers in their 3-4-3 system usually play inside and closer to the striker, which will not put them in attacking positions too often. Add to this the fact that Diallo is a left-footed player playing on the right, with the natural tendency to cut inside, and it is not so much of a surprise. It will be interesting to see how he develops in this area at United, since he will definitely need to stay a lot wider than he did at Atalanta, even if he will not necessarily need to play as an out-and-out winger. Diallo has averaged 5.7 touches in the box per 90, while making 3.95 progressive runs per 90 minutes – both of which are decent markers for a player of his age and profile. He also makes 4.27 passes to the penalty area per 90 minutes. All of these metrics show the threat he has in the opposition box, combined with the fact that he has averaged 3.48 shots per 90 at a 39.8% success rate. He could perhaps improve his shot numbers, as well as get into the box a little more, but those are all facets that can be worked on the training ground – these are impressive numbers for an 18-year-old, even accounting for the fact that they are from age-group football.
In terms of defensive output, he has been making 2.12 interceptions per 90, while also making 4.48 recoveries per 90. These show that he is a willing worker off the ball, while it is also interesting that nearly 59% of those recoveries have taken place in the opposition half. This shows that Diallo could be effective as part of a high press. He also gets into 6.89 defensive duels on average per 90, with a 58.6% success rate. These numbers show that Diallo does not shy away from work off the ball, and despite not being the most physically imposing player, he can win the ball back fairly regularly.
Overall, these statistics paint a picture of a player who is heavily involved both on and off the ball. His clear strength is dribbling with the ball at pace, and he is also diligent off the ball. There are areas for him to work on and improve, but that would be true of any 18-year-old, and there is a very good solid base for United to work on at the moment.
We will now take a look at Diallo’s style of play through some in-game examples.
As we have already stated, one of Diallo’s great strengths is his dribbling ability. The Ivorian has the ability to accelerate from a standing start to leave opponents trailing, and also to make runs from deep with the ball, bypassing multiple players on the run. His close control and technique allow him to move his feet quickly and manipulate the ball to create space for himself, and his ability also means that opposition players are attracted to him, opening up space for teammates. We will now see examples of all of this from matches.
At Atalanta, when playing in the youth sides, Diallo often dropped deep to pick up the ball before either running at defenders, or passing it out wide to create a different angle of attack.
Here, he gets on the ball in the middle of his own half. An Olympique Lyon player rushes out to challenge him, but Diallo simply knocks the ball past him and runs around him, into space and centrally…
Diallo advances to the middle of the pitch, drawing opposition players to him, before passing the ball to a teammate and continuing his run, off the ball, towards the penalty area.
This is just one example of his incredible ball-carrying ability, which allows him to move his team upfield in possession, as well as counter-attack rapidly. It can be easy to see how he can fit in at United in this respect – the Red Devils have been one of the most potent teams on the counter-attack in England over the past couple of seasons, and Diallo will add another rapid attacker to the mix.
His dribbling also causes opponents to resort to fouls in order to stop him, which can then be used to his team’s advantage. He is quite similar to Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in this regard, and it will be interesting to see how opposition defences try to stop him once he establishes himself in United’s lineup.
Here, Diallo has managed to break past the Juventus midfield and is threatening to run at a disjointed defence, causing the Juventus player to bring him down.
The Ivorian’s quick feet make it very difficult for opponents to track him and anticipate his next move, while he is proficient on his right foot as well, meaning that it is not as simple as closing down options on his left foot for opponents to shut him down.
In a Champions League game against Midtjylland, Diallo was brought on to play on the left flank. Here, he has isolated the defender 1v1, and his feint leaves the defender completely bamboozled. Notice the defender’s body weight and positioning – he is expecting Diallo to go on his left foot, but Diallo comes inside onto his right…
…and spears a shot with his right foot, drawing a good save from the goalkeeper.
Diallo’s proficiency in tight spaces means that opponents are attracted to him to win the ball back, which opens up space for his teammates, or even for himself if he can execute quick passes and get away from those markers.
Here, Diallo has two defenders in close attendance, with a third closing in. This means that the right wing-back is able to overlap him into space, while Diallo uses this situation to play a quick wall pass to the striker and run onto the ball into a dangerous central position, where he is in space.
These are just a few isolated examples of Diallo’s ability in 1v1 situations as well as in terms of carrying the ball from deep. This is undoubtedly one of the strengths in his game, and it should stand him in good stead at Old Trafford.
The Ivorian youngster is also an intelligent footballer, and the fact that Gian Piero Gasperini wanted to keep him at Atalanta for the duration of this season is testament to how highly rated he is. It is not easy to play in Gasperini’s system at Atalanta, with constant positional rotation, interchanging and movement off the ball being the order of the day, and Diallo was able to impress the manager whenever he did play for the senior side.
Diallo’s remit was usually to come infield and play in the half-spaces from his right-sided berth, since the wing-back would be occupying the wide space outside him. Being left-footed, this did suit him, although he is not as one-dimensional as that, and often did go on the outside of his opposing full-back to cross or pass to the edge of the area.
Here is an example of that sort of movement –
Playing for Atatlanta against Verona in Serie A, Diallo initially stayed out wide while Hans Hateboer came infield from wing-back. The duo were extremely fluid, and in this example above, Hateboer looks to drive infield to occupy the space that Diallo is vacating by making a run out wide. He also drags a defender with him, creating more space for the wing-back as a result.
We have already seen how Diallo used to drop deeper from his wide position, but this was not always to run with the ball at his feet. Given his speed and agility, the 18-year-old would often play a quick pass to a teammate before spinning in behind into the space he had just vacated, leaving his marker behind and potentially getting into dangerous areas.
Here, Diallo drops deep again, but rather then running with the ball, he lays it off with his first touch to a teammate…
…and then runs into space. The move develops down the opposite flank, but it is interesting to note that Diallo has managed to get well away from the player who was coming in to mark him – a testament to his speed, but also his intelligence.
The Ivorian also drifts into central areas when there is space to do so, making himself available as an option between the lines –
Diallo has taken advantage of the opposition’s disjointed pressing to find space between the lines here.
The winger’s movement is intelligent and in tune with what his side needs at every phase of possession. Again, there are areas to improve, but it is a very solid foundation to build upon.
Diallo, like most 18-year-old wingers, is not what you would call a ‘creative’ passer. His strengths are in dribbling, running and movement off the ball, but he is able to do the basics in terms of keeping possession and spreading play when needed well. Diallo can pick out targets in the box with precise, low crosses, although he has not needed to develop his high, aerial crossing ability too much yet – something which may need to change in the Premier League. Nevertheless, the fact that he is able to get down the line and cross accurately with his right foot, despite being left-footed, is a promising sign.
Here, Diallo has burst into the box and is then able to put the ball on a plate for his striker to tap into an empty net at the back post.
Another example from the same game, where Diallo is a little wider, but is once again able to deliver an accurate cross along the ground to a striker in the box, with his right foot.
As stated earlier, he is also capable of spreading play out to the left after coming in off the right, with his left foot to open up that side of the pitch –
Here’s an example of his ability to play the simple pass well, a trait that is extremely valuable as well –
Playing on the left here, Diallo plays a simple but effective pass behind the defence for his teammate to chase. It is also important to note how Diallo’s wide positioning draws the defenders out and creates the space for the run and the pass in the first place.
Diallo is no Kevin de Bruyne or Bruno Fernandes in terms of his ability to play defence-splitting passes. However, the winger can find teammates when under pressure himself, while he also has the vision to pick out options on the far side of the pitch. His ability to pass with either foot is also a valuable trait, as it ensures that he has multiple options when on the ball, and leaves defenders guessing as to his next move as well.
Amad Diallo is an extremely talented 18-year-old, but he is still quite raw and untested at the highest level. We must reiterate that he has not even played an hour of senior football yet, so he will need quite some time to get acclimatised to England as well as the level of the Premier League before we can expect any sort of impact from him. Neverthless, he is an extremely exciting signing, with a very strong set of attributes which should be well-suited to the league once he has adapted, both physically and from a tactical perspective. United fans should look forward to a dynamic, creative, quick and intelligent attacker joining the ranks, but patience will be needed for him to develop.