Manchester United have signed Brazilian left-back Alex Telles from Porto on transfer deadline day to strengthen a key part of the team that has long been vulnerable due to injury concerns.
It is hoped the 27-year-old will improve the left-flank, also providing competition for existing starter Luke Shaw, who has had an inauspicious start to the 2020/21 season and needs to up his game.
United fans have grown use to Shaw missing a lot of game every season though injury and the 2019/20 campaign was no exception. He is one shy of 100 Premier League appearances for United, a milestone that regulars might normally reach after three seasons. Shaw is now in his seventh.
It is refreshing, then, that Telles has no history of noteworthy injury absences. Between his arrival at Porto in 2016 and the end of last season, he appeared in 126 games out of a possible 136.
Even when he was struggling to fully establish himself at Galatasaray and Inter in his early years in Europe, Telles wasn’t injured and would still at least be named on the bench.
Attacking output has been a necessary major attribute required of full-backs since the 1990s – even Gary Neville, a defender first, was a decent crosser of the ball in advanced positions. It is something that current Aaron Wan-Bissaka is slowly developing, but Telles is already there.
Porto won 3-1 in the opening Primeira Liga game of the season and Telles had a direct hand in all three goals. He scored two, both from the penalty spot, and assisted the other. In his very last appearance for Porto last weekend he got another assist.
Telles scored 13 goals in all competitions last season, which sounds incredible. Admittedly, his role as penalty taker inflated that number significantly, but he still scored four from open play.
Consider also that he is a prolific assister, rather like Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Telles managed 55 assists in all competitions in his four full seasons in Porto, plus two more this season prior to joining United. He got 12 of those last season, peaked at 20 in 2017/18 and led the club in assists in his first two years there.
Compare that to Shaw, who doesn’t offer United anything like enough going forward. His delivery is often poor from attacking positions and the numbers are not forgiving in that department. Shaw has scored two goals in his entire professional career to date, with just 13 assists in eight full seasons – one more than Telles contributed last season alone at Porto.
Shaw rarely puts crosses in for United, averaging fewer than 0.5 per game in the Premier League across the last two seasons. For Telles, that figure was 2.3 last season and over three in 2018/19. With Edinson Cavani now an option for United, that could be a major boost.
As much as attacking is a prerequisite for any modern full-back, sometime at the expense of what happens at the other end of the pitch, United need Telles to be at least as good defensively as their existing options. Overall, with his superior attacking quality, that would make him an improvement.
In league fixtures during four full seasons at Porto, Telles averaged between 1.1 and 2 tackles per game. In each of the last two seasons, he averaged 1.8 interceptions per league game, which is a shift down from an average of at least two per game in his first two seasons with the club.
For comparison’s sake, Shaw appears to be a fiercer tackler, but intercepts less often. Both players give away a similar number of fouls per game and were each dribbled past on average 0.6 times per game in their respective leagues last season.
*Defensive & crossing stats via WhoScored.