Daniel James has endured a difficult twelve months since arriving at Manchester United. He had started his career at the club with such promise after his good displays in the months of August and September 2019. In his first three games, he grabbed a goal in each of these games with the most memorable being on his debut during the 4-0 win against Chelsea as United fans took the Welsh winger to their hearts.
As 2019 came to an end, he had provided six assists that resulted in goals for us. However, in 2020 he has not registered a single assist and his performances on the pitch have taken a slight dip. The opening league game against Crystal Palace and then again against Brighton in the Carabao Cup saw him substituted first. This will obviously not do his confidence much good.
The summer transfer window just gone saw The Sun report that Leeds United were keen to bring James to the club whether it was permanently or on loan.
For Leeds manager Marcelo Biesla, this would have been the second attempt to sign him after the deal to sign him back in January 2019 sensationally collapsed with just hours to go of the transfer window.
Signing Daniel James back in 2019, most United fans thought that he was one for the future and would not play as much as he did in his first season with us but with injuries to other players, he saw more game time and more expectations placed upon him.
Whilst there is concern about his form, United must keep faith in him as he can provide a solution given that the pursuit of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund all summer came to nothing in the end.
One of Daniel James’s key attributes is his versatility that he can play in any position across the front three forward line whether it is on the left or right flank and in the centre.
Solskjær preferred to use him on the flanks in his debut season. His playing style is that he likes to start out wide bringing the ball into the final third of the pitch and then come in more centrally.
Pace and Discipline
James’s pace is a key strength he has utilised. Solskjær has used him out wide to stay up high on the pitch to this effect. So when United retrieve the ball and counter the opposition, he is in a position to be dangerous and effective against the opposition full-backs.
If you look at Daniel James’s heat map for the 2019/20 season and it shows the areas he has occupied the most on the pitch. You can see his position is on the wing before the six yard box.
As he is right footed, it is natural for him to cut inside when on the left and put a cross or shot towards goal on his favoured foot. He also retains the discipline to stay out wide and not drift too far, which is good for United as they look to pull the opposition apart by using width around them.
Attacking the Space
James likes to attack the space in front of him more so than taking on an opposition player one on one. When there is free space, his pace allows him to exploit this to such good effective.
A perfect example of this as highlighted by the football bloody hell website was during the 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Old Trafford in October 2019.
United retrieved the ball and then used it to catch out our opponents in the counter attack. Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson was high up the pitch and Daniel James was hurtling down the right wing with the opposition player Georginio Wijnaldum struggling to keep up with him.
He then whipped in the cross which bounced beyond Joel Matip for Marcus Rashford to score the opener for us.
One area that Daniel James has to work on is his end product from crossing, shooting and the final pass. This will come with time and experience whilst being at United under the tutelage of Solskjær and the other coaches.
Whilst not a 1v1 dribbler who can take the opposition player, he uses his pace to drag the player out of position and thus creating more space for him. His pace and threat on the counter attack, he can draw fouls from the opposition players.
There is still work to do in order to be compared with some of the best wingers in the league. He still has time on his side to do the other things well as he is only 22.
With the transfer window now closed, United need to work on getting the best out of him. It may be the case of utilising him as an impact substitute rather being a starter. This could benefit us when in the big games when teams have set up deep in their own half and are restricting the space available.
He is a player that can be very useful in the years to the club and with only having one season with us, it is too early to make judgements on his potential. There is still time for him to grow into a better player as he can look to improve his decision making, shooting and his final pass.
Sometimes I think we put too much pressure on young football players to be at their best all the time but they are still learning the game and working on improving their skillset. So we have to be patient in James’s development as it is not something that is going to happen just overnight.