Manchester United’s forgotten man has three weeks to show Solskjaer what he can do
Alex Telles’ biggest contribution to Manchester United last season might have been his ability to lighten the mood amongst the squad during a draining and demanding campaign.
Telles struck up a close bond with Bruno Fernandes and Fred, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in April that the trio had been “great to have around” and brought “energy and a bit of smile” to the camp during the season.
While the Brazilian left-back was a bundle of energy around Carrington, his first season on the pitch was forgettable and it’s hard to see how that’s going to change at the moment.
When Telles was signed from Porto for £15.4million last October it felt like there would be a genuine battle for the left-back slot between himself and Luke Shaw, a theory that only seemed more plausible when he made a convincing debut at wing-back in the win at Paris Saint-Germain in the first Champions League group stage game.
How wrong we were. It seems remarkable to think it’s only nine months since that was a debate around Old Trafford, given the year Shaw has had. The 25-year-old is now one of the best left-backs in world football and after a superb season for United he has shone for England at Euro 2020, capping it off with the early goal in the final against Italy, only to see the game end in heartbreak.
After departing Wembley on Sunday night Shaw will now get a well-earned rest and it will be the best part of three weeks before he returns to Carrington for pre-season. He will rest his legs and seek to get over the bitter disappointment of Sunday night.
Shaw’s season didn’t deserve to end that way, but his immense form over the campaign has made Telles something of a forgotten man at Old Trafford. He would have hoped to have put himself in the frame for an international tournament as well this summer, but he was never close to making Brazil’s Copa America squad. Having won three caps in October and November 2020, he’s been unable to make a case at United that he should add to those numbers.
After the bright start in Paris, he struggled to really make an impact, although he did play in the final day win at Wolves when Solskjaer fielded a much-changed side. Before that, the nadir came in December when Solskjaer said Telles was “not streetwise enough” during United’s early collapse against RB Leipzig, before he was then replaced by Shaw at half-time in the Old Trafford win over Wolves in what was a tactical decision.
Those games at Paris and Leipzig that bookended United’s Champions League group stage campaign were the biggest games Telles started for United last season. After Christmas, he was only called on for assignments when changes were being made.
His big chance last season came early on. He was absent after his debut after a positive Covid-19 test, which obviously set him back, but when Shaw picked up an injury in the win at Everton it gave Telles a run of six successive starts. It turned out to be the only time he started successive games last term.
With Shaw now away for a few weeks and Telles back for the start of pre-season this is his chance to impress. He might be facing a losing battle to oust the England international now, but he can at least make it more of a scrap this season.
Against Derby County on Sunday and then Queens Park Rangers and Brentford the following week Telles should get a chance to impress at left-back. He will expect to be featuring more regularly this season at least.
He’s less than 12 months into his United career but the future is already a little uncertain. A four-cap Brazil international is unlikely to want to play second fiddle for too long. That might be inescapable in the end, but he can at least lay down a marker that he is ready to challenge for a place this season on a more consistent basis.