Why Timothy Fosu-Mensah Has Tools to Be a Defensive Star for Manchester United

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2016

Fosu-Mensah should have a bright future at Old Trafford.
Fosu-Mensah should have a bright future at Old Trafford.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Timothy Fosu-Mensah has enjoyed a remarkable ascent to the Manchester United first team this season.

Like Marcus Rashford, he was playing for the under-18s when the campaign began. Moving up an age group to the under-21s would have likely been the initial aim. However, a thin squad and an injury crisis meant a route to the first team opened up. Fosu-Mensah took his chance with aplomb.

Unfortunately, in the short term, it would appear he has fallen back out of favour with manager Louis van Gaal. The Dutch manager has a reputation for promoting young players. However, at United, he has been quick to drop them following a mistake.

Getting into the first team has not been too tough. Staying there has. Paddy McNair and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have both met the same fate.

Van Gaal gives Fosu-Mensah instructions.
Van Gaal gives Fosu-Mensah instructions.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

But in the long run, Fosu-Mesah's early performances have shown enormous potential and hinted he could become a defensive star for United, either in the back line or defensive midfield. He has played at right-back and centre-back for the first team, having often played at left-back at youth level.

He even had a cameo as an advanced midfielder against Norwich City.

His defensive tool set has been obvious from the start of his senior United career. In the first instance, there is his tackling. In the FA Cup semi-final he conceded a penalty for a slightly mistimed challenge. In truth, even there he got his foot on the ball, but his trailing leg poleaxed Everton attacker Ross Barkley.

Generally, though, his timing has been impeccable.

In his eight Premier League appearances, he has attempted five tackles per 90 minutes of action, and 4.3 of those on average have been successful. Mousa Dembele, one of the division's most successful tacklers this season, has made 4.1 of his 4.7 attempted challenges per 90. Fosu-Mensah is in elite company in terms of his success rate.

He is averaging a remarkable 4.6 interceptions per 90 minutes of football, too. Of players with five or more appearances, only N'Golo Kante, the season's star performer in defensive midfield, has averaged more than he has per 90 minutes (4.7).

Fosu-Mensah's numbers per 90 minutes do come from a relatively small sample size. Kante has played 2,930 minutes and Dembele 2,273, while Fosu-Mensah has featured for just 254 minutes of league action. It seems unlikely his numbers would have been up there with the best in the league had he played a whole season, but he has made an extremely promising start.

In 21st-century football, of course, a defender's all-around contribution is important. Fosu-Mensah has looked comfortable on the ball for the most part.

When he has played at full-back, he has been involved in good interplay with the more advanced players in the side, particularly for the assist he gave Anthony Martial for the winner against Everton in the league at Old Trafford in April. He and Marcus Rashford demonstrated an excellent understanding in the build-up to that goal, and Fosu-Mensah's cross was just about perfect.

Fosu-Mensah celebrates with Martial and Rashford.
Fosu-Mensah celebrates with Martial and Rashford.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Van Gaal would probably rather Fosu-Mensah's overall pass-completion average was a little better than the 73.2 per cent he has managed so far, but that number is mitigated by the fact he has played at full-back. Borthwick-Jackson, Matteo Darmian, Guillermo Varela and Ashley Young have all averaged below 80 per cent successful pass-completion rates this season.

Finally, of course, his physical attributes are stellar for a player of his age. His speed and strength belie his 18 years, and his 6'3" height is a particular attribute in a United side that lacks aerial presence.

Overall, there has been plenty of evidence so far that Fosu-Mensah has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. Whoever manages Manchester United over the next few seasons should ensure his development is carefully managed, given he clearly has the tools to become a huge asset to the club.

Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.

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