Social distancing could not prevent Alex Telles from being greeted by Manchester United supporters outside The Lowry Hotel on Thursday afternoon. It has been seven months since United checked into their pre-match haunt but there is some overdue club representation via Telles, every inch the archetypal footballer wearing Balmain, Burberry and Louis Vuitton.
Telles was in Peru as recently as Tuesday night, where he came on in the second-half of Brazil’s World Cup qualifying win in Lima. He will have had two training sessions – at the most – with his new club teammates by the time of the Saturday night encounter with Newcastle, and the jet-setting would ordinarily be an excuse for Telles to start on the bench.
Yet he has the benefit of entering a St James’ Park devoid of the Geordie din and the vitriol that rains down from the Gallowgate, and Luke Shaw’s lazy performance against Tottenham is still fresh in the mind. Those are excuses to start Telles.
Time will tell whether Telles has been bought to vie with, or replace, Shaw. United went over six years without signing a left-back as their rivals reinforced with talents aged 22 or 23 and a proposed trial for Alphonso Davies, the 19-year-old Bayern Munich whippersnapper, never materialised. Telles turns 28 in December.
United boasted they first clapped eyes on Telles when he was at Galatasaray in 2014 and had scouted him extensively over the last two years. Telles was a starter in Portuguese matches United had a scouting presence at though Jose Mourinho – the United manager two years ago – is understood to have no recollection of Telles being discussed as a target. His left-sided suggestion was only Ivan Perisic.
Telles’s agent Pini Zahavi hawked him around Europe in the summer, contacting Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham, before the Brazilian was chaperoned from Manchester Airport to Carrington by the United head of football development John Murtough a day before the deadline. Mourinho, still loyal to Porto, is said to be impressed by Telles’s front-foot approach.
Telles tallied two goals and two assists in his last three appearances for Porto. He ended last season with 13 and 12 – numbers that dwarf Shaw’s entire United career (two goals and 11 assists, specifically) – and United are behind the curve with their development of full-backs.
Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka cost £81m combined. The latter created four goals last season and the superior attacking right-back has joined AC Milan on loan. Telles cost almost as much as another United deadline day addition – Daley Blind – did in 2014 and the Dutchman had productive spells at left-back that kept Shaw sidelined.
Telles could be the only deadline day acquisition who travels to the north-east. Edinson Cavani is staving off cabin fever in quarantine, Amad Diallo is due to touch down in Manchester in January and the Uruguayan Facundo Pellistri, already recognised as a first-team squad member at 18, will require time to adapt.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has a bloated 31-man squad and will be grateful that the Champions League affords him larger matchday squads. Whereas the majority of Premier League clubs voted against the interim five substitutions rule to reduce benches back down to seven substitutes, in Uefa competitions clubs are permitted up to five changes from 12 substitutes.
European aways will be more expensive for United, who could take up to 24 players to Paris, given Lee Grant participates in the warm-ups with David de Gea and Dean Henderson. For the flight to Newcastle, United will require a lighter aircraft.
El tiempo no para
The clock does not stop pic.twitter.com/6n90dR1Iej
— Edi Cavani Official (@ECavaniOfficial) October 8, 2020
Telles and Shaw are bound to be at St James’ but maybe not Brandon Williams, who should get to return to the scene of his maiden first-team involvement at the Parc Des Princes on Tuesday. United have no notable injury concerns after Eric Bailly recovered to start for the Ivory Coast in their second international against Japan.
Fourteen United players were on international duty, so more than half of Solskjaer’s squad have had a breather since the Tottenham trouncing on October 4. Shaw should be fresher than Telles by virtue of no jet-lag and has the luxury of not shielding from others under the same roof.
This weekend is a test of Solskjaer’s ruthlessness: United have lost two from three in the league and sieved 11 goals. Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes for the next Premier League fixture at Everton after the 6-1 shellacking by Manchester City in 2011 and only one (the injured Ashley Young) was enforced.
Everyone, from 18-year-olds Pellistri and Teden Mengi to those twice their age (Grant), are fit. Even Phil Jones drove himself into Carrington on Thursday.
Possible United domestic squad (when all fit): De Gea, Henderson, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw, Telles, Matic, Pogba, Fred, Van de Beek, Mata, Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford, Martial, Cavani.
Possible United Champions League squad: De Gea, Henderson, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Bailly, Tuanzebe, Mengi, Shaw, Telles, Williams, Matic, McTominay, Pogba, Fred, Van de Beek, Mata, Fernandes, James, Greenwood, Rashford, Martial, Cavani.