Winger Daniel James is an intriguing prospect for Manchester United fans and Fantasy managers alike in 2019/20.
However, we may have to bide our time to see just how prominent he is in the first-team set-up.
The Wales international joined the Red Devils for a fee in the region of £15m, signing a five-year deal with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
James played the bulk of his breakthrough season at Swansea on the left flank, although is capable of operating on the opposite wing and has been deployed as a centre-forward/false nine on occasion by both club and country.
Upon signing for United, James said of his playing style:
I’d say I’m quite a direct player. I don’t just like to get the ball into feet and dribble at players, I like to get the ball in behind. I’m quite a pacy player.
In an interview with the Manchester United club website, James’ former teammate Oli McBurnie said of the Welsh wide-man:
He played a lot on the left but played on the right as well and up front at times. He’s by far the quickest player I’ve played with, with his press and his one-versus-one abilities, getting in behind.
He’s a nightmare for defenders to try to pick up. He can come for it into feet and run at you and, if you get too tight, he can run in behind. With the right passes played in behind, he’s gone and there is no catching him.
He’s been working a lot on his final product – his end ball and finishing, which has come on a lot in the past six months. The more he plays, with better coaching and quality of players to play with, he will only go from strength to strength.
Pace is something that United have been crying out for in recent seasons, with the Red Devils generally looking pedestrian in their approach play – although Solskjaer’s honeymoon period saw the Red Devils briefly resemble a dynamic attacking force.
With Romelu Lukaku linked with a move away from Old Trafford this summer, Solskjaer seems to be prioritising mobility in his front three.
The Norwegian said upon James’ arrival:
Daniel is an exciting young winger with lots of skills, vision, exceptional pace and a good work ethic. He had a great season with Swansea City and has all the attributes needed to become a Manchester United player.
We are delighted he has signed with our club and we are all looking forward to working with him. This is the perfect environment for Daniel to continue his development.
At the time of writing, James has been capped four times by his country and national team coach Ryan Giggs was another to highlight the 21-year-old prospect’s pace in comments made around the June internationals:
First of all, his best attribute is his speed. I mean, I’ve probably not seen anyone as quick as him in my whole career. That’s a big shout, because obviously I’ve played [with] and played against quick players.
He can play a number of positions – anywhere across the front three, really – and, this year, he’s played quite a bit for Swansea up front, which he’s not done a lot of in the past, but he’s looked comfortable.
He’s a nightmare for defenders. He’s not that big, so it’s hard to get your arm across him. He’s both-footed, can score goals, create goals.
He’s got a really good temperament, as well. He’s still young, still learning the game, but he’s a speed merchant and I’m sure he’ll be a nightmare for defenders on that big Old Trafford pitch.
The History and Statistics
James’ rise has been a meteoric one: 12 months ago, the young winger hadn’t made a single league appearance at senior level.
Born in Hull in November 1997, James progressed through the academy system of his hometown club before signing for Swansea for £72,000 at the age of 16.
A regular in the Welsh club’s under-23 side, the closest James came to making a Premier League appearance with the Swans was in October 2016 when he was an unused substitute in a match against Stoke City – Fantasy Premier League subsequently pricing him up as a £4.5m midfielder.
An ill-fated loan spell with Shrewsbury Town in 2017 was cut short after only two months, with the then 19-year-old having failed to play a single minute with the League One club.
James’ one taste of first-team football with his parent club in 2017/18 came as a 62nd-minute substitute in the 8-1 win over Notts County in an FA Cup fourth-round replay. James scored Swansea’s eighth and final goal, 20 minutes after coming off the bench.
The appointment of Graham Potter as head coach in South Wales turned out to be pivotal, with the former Ostersunds manager having an excellent record of working with young players – something we may see at Brighton next season.
Making his league debut as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Birmingham last August, James was included in the starting XI for the first time against Millwall the following month.
Manchester United’s £15m signing went on to make 28 starts for Swansea in the Championship and a further five substitute appearances, scoring four goals and registering seven assists (excluding Fantasy assists for rebounds, penalty awards etc).
The table below assesses James’ underlying attacking stats compared to United’s other midfielders in 2018/19:
|Player||Mins per shot||Mins per shot in box||Mins per shot on target||Mins per big chance||Mins per key pass||Mins per big chance created|
Above: Underlying attacking statistics for James and selected Manchester United midfielders in 2018/19. The best statistic in each category is highlighted in bold.
The usual caveats apply to those stats with James operating at Championship level but his goal threat stands out – his creativity less so.
James’ searing pace was in evidence in his goal against Brentford in the FA Cup in February:
James was also part of the Swansea team that ran Manchester City close in the quarter-finals of that competition:
The winger’s form was such that Leeds United tried to buy him in the January transfer window, the move falling through at the eleventh hour as the two clubs failed to agree on the payment structure.
Having represented Wales at every level from under-17s up, James made his senior international debut against Albania in November of last year.
James’ first goal for the Dragons came in the 1-0 win over Slovakia in March:
The cases of Nick Powell and Wilfried Zaha are cautionary tales, with United having splashed a considerable amount of money on those two promising Football League attackers who subsequently didn’t make the grade at Old Trafford.
James also arrives in Manchester off the back of just one season in senior football, even if it was a promising one.
Barring any future transfer activity this summer, Marcus Rashford seems set to spearhead the United attack next season – though Solskjaer would surely add to his ranks if Lukaku leaves.
Anthony Martial currently stands in James’ way on the left flank should Solskjaer stick with a 4-3-3 or variation thereof, although the Frenchman had an up-and-down half-season under the Norwegian and his attitude was reportedly questioned towards the end of 2018/19.
The right-wing role has been a problem position in the 4-3-3, with Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata not totally convincing out wide, so it could be that James is occasionally deployed on the opposite flank to where he played the bulk of his football at Swansea.
James indeed is right-footed, with 66 of his 87 attempts on goal in 2018/19 coming from his favoured boot, although a role on the right flank would partially negate his ability to cut inside and shoot.
Solskjaer also employed a 4-4-2 diamond and wing-back system at times last season, so James may well have to adapt to a more central role should the now-permanent United boss opt for those formations.
With the transfer window open for another two months, there will surely be more ins and outs at Old Trafford by the time Gameweek 1 rolls around in August – something that will perhaps dictate how likely James is to be a first-team regular.
We’ll be carefully monitoring the Welshman’s minutes and form in United’s pre-season friendlies, which will also provide further clues to his Fantasy prospects.
The fact that Manchester United face Chelsea and Wolves in the opening two Gameweeks is arguably a good thing when it comes to assessing James, as the matches – off-putting from a Fantasy perspective – can act as an audition before United’s fixtures ease up (the Red Devils face only two of the ‘big six’ from Gameweeks 3 to 14 and play all three promoted clubs in that time).
Should he nail down a starting spot, and that’s a big if, there are encouraging signs: an attempt on goal every 28.8 minutes (almost identical to Pogba) and a shot in the box every 37.4 minutes hint at a player not afraid to chance his arm, even if his goal conversion rate of 4.6% needs a lot of work.
Despite the seven assists last season, James was also not too creative: a key pass every 62.7 minutes is fairly poor, especially by Championship standards.
His ability to claim Fantasy assists may well compensate for that, though, and not just in terms of rebounds from shots. James was the joint-second-most fouled player in the second tier last season based on fouls per match, his pace being a real issue for opposition defences.
Zaha and Eden Hazard were the only Premier League players fouled more times than James in 2018/19, with the Wales international being floored on 90 occasions in 33 appearances.
Zaha won six penalties for his side last season, so there could be a route to Fantasy points via that avenue for James and whoever is on spot-kick duties for United (Paul Pogba having also been linked with a move away this summer).
James indeed won two penalties for Swansea in the Championship last season.
All in all, then, the 21-year-old is a name to monitor from a Fantasy perspective while we assess his adjustment to Premier League football and evaluate the competition for places at Old Trafford.
Should FPL price him up generously and Solskjaer not have the wealth of options available to him that we perhaps expect, then he could enter the thinking as a mid-price midfielder further down the line.
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