After the explosive bombshell that was dropped by Piers Morgan and Cristiano Ronaldo at 10pm on Sunday evening, it was easy to forget that Manchester United had won a Premier League fixture in such dramatic fashion just a few hours earlier.
After former Reds winger Daniel James had cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s opener just past the hour mark, United looked set to sign off for the World Cup break with a disappointing tally of four points from their last three matches.
However, breakthrough star Alejandro Garnacho, fresh from stepping off the bench, proved himself as the calmest man in London to stroke home a 93rd-minute winner.
It sparked wild scenes on the pitch, in the Craven Cottage away end and on the touchline, as Erik ten Hag and his coaching staff celebrated what they knew was a vitally important goal. Garnacho’s heroics, with just one kick of the ball, made an enormous difference to the mood that will be felt around Old Trafford during the pause.
In truth, Fulham could have been forgiven for feeling somewhat deflated; they had carried a genuine attacking threat for much of the contest and could have scored more than the one they did manage to get.
On the flip side, however, United also carried a good threat going forward, with Anthony Martial central to much of their good fortune.
In the defensive department, however, United looked somewhat vulnerable, especially down their right side. In the absence of Diogo Dalot, who was serving a one-match suspension after collecting his fifth booking of the season in the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa a week earlier, Ten Hag decided to plunge Tyrell Malacia into somewhat unfamiliar territory at right-back.
The Dutchman, snapped up from Feyenoord during the summer, is a seasoned left-back, but had, prior to Sunday’s visit to Craven Cottage, experienced minutes on the opposite side of the defence, albeit in limited flashes earlier this season.
However, Ten Hag’s decision to deploy his fellow countryman in that particular role was no surprise to anyone when the teamsheet was released an hour before kick-off.
Next-to-nobody anticipated that Ten Hag would, in Dalot’s absence, deploy Aaron Wan-Bissaka, despite him being the Portuguese’s understudy, in his place.
The former Crystal Palace man, who joined the Reds in 2019, has racked up a paltry four minutes worth of football so far this season, making it clear that he does not figure in Ten Hag’s plans, either in the short-term or the long-term.
His only appearance this season came as a substitute in the dying stages of United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in August. Even when Ten Hag opted to rotate his pack in Europa League fixtures and against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup last week, Wan-Bissaka was overlooked. He has not started for the Reds since the 4-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in April.
With more and more evidence stacking up to suggest that Ten Hag does not consider the 24-year-old as part of his plans, offloading him ought to be one of United’s leading priorities in the upcoming January transfer window.
It is pointless keeping hold of a player, who has failed to progress since joining the club, when he does not figure in the manager’s plans in any way, shape, or form.
To have been completely overlooked when United’s first-choice right-back was unavailable spoke volumes about what Ten Hag thinks of Wan-Bissaka and how he fits into his plans. Playing a left-back at right-back over him was the final nail in the coffin for him at Old Trafford, surely?
United desperately need a new right-back, and many supporters thought it was an avenue that ought to have been explored during the summer, but with a view to a new arrival taking up first place in the pecking order.
Dalot’s form this season has seen him establish himself as Ten Hag’s go-to man at right-back, meaning any new signing in that area of the team would have to accept a backup role, certainly for now.
But while the idea of signing a new right-back to provide Dalot with some healthy competition and cover is a legitimate and sensible one, offloading Wan-Bissaka first, although that will be easier said than done, is what United ought to be focusing on. Ten Hag’s decision to exclude him again at Fulham was telling.