Being full-back used to be one of the most underrated positions, only being exploited by Brazilians. Pep Guardiola shifted the importance of this position at Barcelona using Dani Alves as an attacking tool and introduced further roles to his full-backs at Bayern Munich and now in Manchester City. The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker have lifted even further the importance in the roles of a full-back in any phase of the game.
The young full-back Brandon Williams wants to be part of that list, being only 19 years of age, he has made his starting debut at Manchester United last year in the UEFA Europa League match against AZ Alkmaar, since then through the good performances he has increased his appearances in Man United’s line-ups.
In this scout report, we are going to do a deep tactical analysis of his performance in the Premier League, where he has appeared twelve times with nine starts. This analysis will also focus on the techniques of this right-footed playing on the left flank and the tactics used by Ole Gunnar Solskjær to exploit the attributes of this young player that pledge to be the future left-full back for the national team.
Positioning and role in Man Utd
Solskjær has found stability and results lastly in the Premier League using two formations depending on the opponent’s formation: 1-4-2-3-1 and 1-3-5-2-1. These formations would place Brandon as a left full-back or wing-back with nearly the same role and pitch position. We can see in the following heat map his left flank positioning, noticing a little difference in the halves, tending to be a bit more positioned in the rival’s half.
When defending Man United used a flat line no matter the formation used defending with four or five players, when defending Brandon will always position wide inside the furthest rival. In the next picture, we can see in the game against Manchester City, being positioned wide in the flat defensive line.
When attacking he keeps the wide flank, but positioning higher in the pitch. There will be a variant with the formation used when playing as wing-back he would exploit further the left flank and he will be the highest player in the weak-side. In the next picture, we can see Brandon staying isolated in the left flank playing as a wing ready to exploit the switch.
When playing as a full-back in the 1-4-2-3-1 formation he will keep the wide position but staying deeper than the left-wing. This does not reduce his offensive participation as he would get involved when the ball is played in his side, using his speed to underlap or overlap the winger. In the next picture, we can see his deeper position when playing as a full-back.
Another important role he outperforms in Solskjær tactics is when counter-attacking, due to his speed he becomes an essential tool to exploit the wide flank on this transitional phase. In the next picture, we can see him arriving into the box in a counter-attack being the only player of the midfield to support the counter-attack.
Speed and technique
One of his main attributes and essential for his wide role is his athleticism being fast with a great acceleration that allows him to get away from opponents or recover when defending. In the next picture, we can see him recovering from a high position when Bernardo Silva is ready to collect the ball and exploit the space in his back. But due to his pace and acceleration, he managed to pass Bernardo and position himself under the ball to delay the attack.
This physical attribute is also essential when attacking the wide flank, use speed to receive the ball behind the defensive line is one of the ways Marcelo Bielsa teaches to stand out from a defender. In the next sequence of pictures, we can see Brandon in an inside run using his high peace to stand out from his mark.
We can see how in the previous picture he started next to his rival and due to his acceleration, he ended up losing his mark and staying at the reach of the ball in the box as seen in the next picture. His sprint did not end there, he outplayed Krull in that duel, getting first in contact with the ball and receiving the penalty.
The highest attribute to highlight from his technique is his right-footed control; this gives him time and space when receiving the ball. As playing most of the time wide in the weak-side long balls frequently connected him over the central areas, this means that he must control the ball perfectly in the air to be able to use the space he has been given by staying isolated. In the next picture, we can see his technique lifting the knee, opening the ankle, and unlocking the foot to soften the control.
In the next sequence, we see a combination of his two attributes already mentioned. In the first picture, we can see that a long cross pass has been sent to him with a huge space in front of him but with inner pressure.
In the second picture, we can see how after controlling perfectly that ball falling from the air, he managed to place it forward into the space he had in front. At the same time, once he perfectly controls the ball forward, he accelerated leaving behind his mark and creating a dangerous attack.
To make a complete wing-back as the likes of Alexander-Arnold, striking technique is a must. Being an inverted full-back attacking the left flank is a benefit when the ball is crossed to his position as he can place his body and shoot with his strong feet directly. In the next, picture we can see the goal he scores against Sheffield United receiving the ball in the air, letting the ball bounce and shooting in the exact moment. We could appreciate his perfect body technique, with both arms balancing his left body inclination to use perfectly the instep.
To work on
Being young and just in his debut season in the first team, there are aspects he needs to improve to solidify his position in the first team. These weaknesses arise from his inverted position and the overuse of his right foot to control or to play the ball. In the next picture, we can see how he cross the right foot to receive the ball from the inside to go backward. Instead of using his front foot to receive the ball, and possibly go forward he sometimes tends to use his strong foot.
This inverted positioning could also bias his decision making and not producing the desired objective of playing forward to beat defenders. He tends to overplay to the inside, by comfortably using his right feet, and less are the situations he would use forward passes using the left foot. In the next picture, we can see a ball received from the central area, and instead of going forward, he started running to the inside using his right foot to pass the ball.
This could also be shown in the stats of the game against Manchester City in which most of the passes tended to be inner passes to the central areas preventing going forwards. To become a better assistant or in a second priority to assist the assistant he needs to start using more the open body when receiving and playing with the front foot to find spaces behind the defensive line.
With just 19 years, and playing his first season in the Premier League is common to find areas in which he needs to work. Being the cognitive areas usually in youngsters underdeveloped affecting directly their decision making, it will naturally improve by gaining experience playing and being properly coached.
This young fellow that has been promoted through the Man United youth division, has lots of attributes that we have analyzed through this scout report to be considered as a complete full-back. His characteristics, as it is required nowadays from full-backs, allows him to be part of Manchester tactics in both defensive and offensive phases. Already scoring his first goal in the first division and having participated in the U20 for the National team, we foresee more minutes for Brandon Williams on the next season and why not a National appearance in the senior team.