Manchester United has completed the impressive signing of Ajax striker Anthony.
After signing with Terrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez, they went back to Eredivisie shopping for the 22-year-old winger. They paid a whopping €100m for the Brazil international.
So why were Manchester United willing to spend so much money on the former Sao Paulo man?
A key factor, of course, is his relationship with current Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag, which formed during their time together at Ajax. That alone isn’t an excuse to spend such a huge amount of money, so it’s worth digging deeper into the qualities Anthony would add to the Manchester United attack that they currently lack.
Season 2021/22 at Ajax
As always, our first step is to understand a player’s playing style, and there’s no better way to do that than by analyzing their last full season.
Anthony started more than 20 matches in the Eredivisie last season, returning with eight goals and four assists. His pizza chart provides a good overview of his greatest strengths – shooting, creating and dribbling.
The playing area created by the Brazilian winger was close to the touchline on the right side of the Ajax attack, as his tactile map shows.
His role here was very simple – tightening the opposition’s defenses by staying as wide as possible, which often results in him receiving passes in situations where he is isolated from the opposing full back, after which he can use his excellent dribbling ability to get the ball. Bypassing his mark before taking a shot or creating an opportunity for a teammate.
The high dribbling volume and completion rate along with the impressive shooting and creativity stats on his pizza chart prove that he was successful in this mission.
Being a left-footed player, Anthony preferred the cut to the inside after receiving the ball away, as evident in his progressive campaign map from last season.
From this inner-right area around the edge of the box, Anthony did the most damage to him, both in terms of shell creation…
These are the situations in which the Brazilian winger performs his trick to stop the show, which you may have already seen many combinations.
Here is a short sequence showing what Anthony is all about, from a match against Fortuna Sittard this season.
Receiving a pass with his back to goal and a defender behind him, the Ajax man cleverly hits the ball over the opponent’s head with a superb first touch.
Some traits that contribute to his remarkable dribbling skill are his fearsome speed and quick acceleration, which makes it extremely difficult to catch him once he’s gone. In this case, he quickly creates a large gap between himself and the defender as he drives the ball into space.
He ended up outnumbered in the final third, but even then he ensured he didn’t lose possession by chopping off his left foot again and a foul.
In essence, Anthony has everything you could want in a suite – tremendous skill, speed, a good grasp of the game, and a great end product to finish it all off.
What Anthony uniquely adds to the Manchester United attack
Manchester United sorely lacks outstanding dribblers in their squad. Paul Pogba scored the highest dribbler per 90 in the league last season, so after his departure, the only player left who could claim to be a strong dribbler is Jadon Sancho. However, the thing that sets Sancho apart is that he lacks a great turn in pace, so he usually relies on off-ball movements from his teammates to aid his ability to get past the defender.
Otherwise, Manchester United’s wingers aren’t prolific dribblers, and honestly aren’t always at their best with the ball at their feet. Anthony’s arrival changes that as he has the individual ability to get past an opponent’s defender thanks to his magical control of the ball and his speed.
Regardless of whether Tin Hag has switched to the transition-based style of play he used against Liverpool or stuck to the dominant possession philosophy he demonstrated at Ajax, Anthony will be a key player either way. His speed and individual ability make him a threat to counterattack, but they also make him a real weapon against stubborn low blocks.
The Brazilian winger also seems to complement the skills of those around him in the Manchester United squad. Given his tendency to keep display on the right, he will not be able to form a great relationship with a staggered full-back and would prefer someone who stays deeper or flips, like Nasir Mazraoui at Ajax last season.
Ten Hag’s first-choice pick, Diogo Dalot, has shown real similarities to the Moroccan international’s work at Ajax in terms of his areas of involvement on the pitch so far this season. Their heatmaps clearly indicate this.
In addition, Manchester United’s squads under Ten Hag have generally been biased to the left with Bruno Fernandes tending to favor drifting to this side of the pitch. This means that Anthony has to often find himself isolated on the other side of the field with the opponent’s full-back, a situation in which he excels at causing trouble.
Good news for Sancho
At first glance, Anthony’s arrival may not seem positive for Sancho as he will be a direct contender for a position in the starting line-up, but it is possible that the Brazilian winger could help snatch the best out of the former Borussia Dortmund player. .
Sancho will undoubtedly have to give up the right-wing position for the new deal, but that may not be a bad thing for him, although he has excelled on this side of the pitch in Dortmund. The real reason behind this was Achraf Hakimi, the most offensive full-back in the world in recent times. Sancho needs such a winger partnership to unleash his full potential, but at Manchester United, Dalot’s reluctance to overlap means such a connection is impossible.
However, on the left, Malacia and Luke Shaw both have the ability to regularly move forward and pose a threat in the final third, so Sancho could form a solid partnership with either of them. Meanwhile, Anthony and Dalot should do well on the right as well for reasons we discussed earlier. In this way, this can be a win-win situation for all parties in the Manchester United squad.
Anthony would be a very good deal for Manchester United. While transfer fees are undoubtedly very high, the circumstances of the transfer – how late in the window, Ajax’s reluctance to sell and Manchester United’s need to buy – make them at least understandable.
Of course, United could have avoided this situation by being more proactive about their transfer business, but that’s a different story. At the very least, they are improving in the sense that they finally appear to be targeting the right players who fit the team and the coach’s playing style.