When Javier Manquillo joined Liverpool on a two-season long loan in the summer of 2014, he was hoping for game time at Anfield, and perhaps a permanent move in the future. The Reds did not have a first choice right-back and it gave the Spaniard a great opportunity to shine. But it was not to be. Manquillo did not shine in the ten Premier League appearances he made and then Brendan Rodgers’ chopping and changing of the formations ensured that the player did not find a place in Liverpool’s first eleven.
So, in the summer of 2015, his loan was terminated and he went back to his parent club – Athletico Madrid, from which he went on another loan to Marseille in Ligue 1. But his love affair with the Premier League continued, as in 2016 summer he joined Sunderland on a season-long loan. That spell ended with the Black Cats getting relegated and the player going back to Athletico.
Now, once again Premier League has beckoned and Manquillo has joined Newcastle United – this time on a permanent, three-year deal. For Newcastle fans, who must have been hoping for a marquee signing or two, to ensure that their latest stint in the top league is longer than their previous, this announcement (made last Friday) must have been underwhelming. Their club has signed a player, who did not get game time at Liverpool and who could not shine in a team as lackluster as last season’s Sunderland.
Why has Rafa Benitez signed Manquillo and does he offer an upgrade over the current full-backs at Newcastle? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Will this third stint in the Premier League prove lucky for the Spaniard or will it again fizzle out for him? Let us try to answer some of these questions in this post.
Manquillo is a 23-year old, right-footed full-back who is deemed equally effective on both the flanks, which is reflected in how Sunderland utilized him last season, almost equally dividing his time between right-back and left-back. Rafa said as much when he said that, “With Javier he can play in both full back positions, and we needed the cover the right full back.” Vurnon Anita, who was the Magpies’ first-choice right back last season has been released and while DeAndre Yedlin moves up the ladder to become Rafa’s first choice on the right, the American did not have a back-up.
On the left, Rafa has other options in the form of Paul Dummett (first-choice), Achraf Lazaar and Massadio Haidara. But even here, it is believed that Manquillo is a better back-up than Lazaar and Haidara.
So, Rafa has signed a young player, who can be used as a back-up full-back on both flanks. But, is Manquillo perfect for the role? Apparently not. As Rafa himself put it, “He has to improve from last season, we know, but he is a player who has the potential. Once he’s trained properly, and understands what we do, he can be a good addition”.
Does Manquillo possess the quality to meet Rafa’s expectations? Going by his career graph in the Premier League, one might be tempted to claim that he will fail again. But what do his stats suggest?
There are two comparisons we should be making – the first is between Manquillo at Sundervand vs Yedlin and Dummett – the first choice full-backs at Newcastle. The second comparison is with Manquillo himself, but at Marseille.
First, let us look at the tackles – Manquillo put in 1.6 tackles per game at Sunderland, vs Yedlin’s 1.8 and Dummett’s 1.7. So, his tackling rate was just marginally lower. His interceptions – 1.2 per game are similar to Dummett (1.1) but double that of Yedlin. His blocks per game are similar to the other two Newcastle players. But, his clearances 2.5 per game, are much lower than Yedlin (3.4) and Dummett (4.4). On the other hand, he proved to be difficult to dribble past – allowing only 0.3 dribbles past him per game, almost half that for Yedlin and Dummett.
In terms of chance creation, Manquillo had zero assists for Sunderland and put in a key pass every 5 appearances. On the other hand, Yedlin, had 5 assists in Championship last season and he put in 1.2 key passes every game. Dummett as well did not have any assists to his name but he created a shooting opportunity at the rate of 0.7 per game. So defensively, while Manquillo seems similar to Newcastle’s current first-choice full-backs, he is much weaker going forward.
But we see a bigger change in his game if we compare his 2016-17 performances for the Black Cats to his loan spell in France. Manquillo was much more proactive in Ligue 1 in 2015-16, putting in 2.5 tackles per game (vs 1.6 for Sunderland) and 2.8 interceptions per game (vs 1.2). In reactive situations, he was more active at Sunderland with slightly more clearances and blocks. Going forward also, the two Manquillos seem to be completely different players. In Marseille, he put in one assist, 0.5 key passes per game and his passes were more accurate (82.5 vs 77.8 at Sunderland).
Manquillo has been a Under-21 right-back for Spain and has been groomed by Athletico Madrid. So, to assume that he is a defensive-minded player based only on last season’s stats would be a folly. He was playing for Sunderland, who were not really renowned for their front foot play. May be that could be a reason, why Manquillo’s defensive stats for Sunderland are similar to Newcastle’s first-choice full-backs, while his attacking stats trail by quite a distance.
His numbers from Marseille show that the Spaniard has much better performances in him, provided he plays in a balanced or slightly more attacking kind of unit, which Newcastle might just prove to be. Who knows, Manquillo might turn out to be lucky this third time in the Premier League!! If he does, Rafa will have made a smart move in this hyper-inflated transfer market.