Arriving in the Premier League off the back of a season in which he delivered 19 attacking returns, Alex Telles (£5.5m) was one of the more intriguing captures of transfer deadline day from a Fantasy perspective.
The left-sided defender was signed by Manchester United for a reported £13.6m, a cut-price fee as the Brazilian was set to be out of contract with Porto at the end of the current campaign.
Telles has penned a four-year deal with the Red Devils, with the option to extend for a further 12 months.
The Brazil international boasts some eye-catching statistics from his time in Portugal, having scored on 26 occasions and set up a further 57 goals in 195 appearances in all competitions.
Priced up at a reasonable £5.5m in Fantasy Premier League, are those numbers too good to be true and is he an FPL asset to seriously consider?
We assess his worth in the article below.
Born in December 1992 and set to turn 28 midway through the 2020/21 campaign, Telles is by no means “one for the future”.
Starting his professional career in his homeland with fourth-tier side Juventude, Telles moved to Gremio at the age of 21 and spent one year with the Brazilian giants before being snapped up by Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray.
Immediately establishing himself as the Turkish side’s first-choice left-back upon his move to Europe in January 2014, Telles then fell foul of Mancini’s successor Cesare Prandelli, only returning as a regular when the latter departed.
Reunited with Mancini for another hit-and-miss campaign on loan at Inter in 2015/16, it wasn’t until Telles moved to Porto in July 2016 that we started to see him kick on.
Nine attacking returns in his debut campaign in Liga NOS included a hat-trick of assists against Rio Ave, a feat he repeated the following season against Braga.
The 2017/18 campaign saw Telles rack up more assists (13) than any other player in the Portuguese top flight, with the subsequent season seeing him chalk up another 12 attacking returns on the domestic front for Porto.
The new United left-back hit double figures for goals in his final full season in Portugal and was still at it in the last month, playing a part in all three goals in the 3-1 win over Braga in mid-September and then claiming an assist in his final appearance for Porto last Saturday.
Sources: Whoscored and Transfermarkt
Any full-back who arrives in the Premier League with an attacking reputation will immediately pique the interest of Fantasy managers and Telles certainly fits the bill, as his statistics above indicate.
That is doubly so if the player in question is a set-piece specialist, which is one of the strings to Telles’ bow.
On dead-ball duties throughout his time at Porto, six of his eight assists in 2019/20 came from corners.
Pedro Cunha, the Porto editor for Portuguese football website MaisFutebol, told The Athletic:
He is very, very strong when it comes to the attacking side of the game. He scores important goals from outside the box — he got two or three last season alone — but his biggest asset is his crossing ability.
The way he bends the ball into the box is exceptional, and it usually results in one of the forwards getting an effort on goal. He set up at least 10 goals every season for Porto, which tells you what kind of full-back Alex is. In Portugal, we say that his crosses aren’t just crosses; they are passes that land on his teammates’ heads.
Telles himself said to MUTV upon his move:
I like to think of myself as a very intelligent player, a set-piece specialist and I’m always looking for opportunities to create passes to score goals.
I look at being a defender in a different way with my goals. I’m looking to create more openings wherever possible but during training, I also pay particular attention to set-piece training.
Apart from the key basics of being a defender, which is obviously about defending well, I want to have extra aspects to my game so I’m a versatile player.
I have great beliefs in my defensive capabilities but also in my attacking ability. I’m in the best moment of my career and I believe I’ve grown a lot, and hopefully, I can continue to do so.
The defensive side of Telles’ game will come under a lot of scrutiny upon his move to England.
The Brazilian is, a bit like Serge Aurier (£5.2m) or Marcos Alonso (£5.9m), more renowned for supplying goals than stopping them and any shortcomings are bound to be exposed against a higher quality of opponent than the ones he faced in a limited Liga NOS.
Fantasy managers may care little if he is providing regular returns at the other end of the pitch but clean sheet potential is the bread and butter of an FPL defender, and his arrival will likely do little to shore up a United backline that has been woefully out of sorts in 2020/21 so far.
The somewhat generous Cunha did suggest that working with Porto boss Sergio Conceicao has improved Telles defensively, however:
He defends as well as he attacks. Working with Sergio Conceicao, who places huge importance on the defensive side of the game, really helped him. He has made Alex into a very competent defender.
He is very impressive physically and hardly makes any mistakes. You really saw the difference down Porto’s left flank whenever he wasn’t playing.
As alluded to above, Telles’ crossing is his main strength.
He has been top of the Liga NOS in each of the last three seasons for attempted crosses, with the 347 he delivered in 2018/19 only 25 short of the total that Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) sent over last season.
Telles’ total of 39 shots in 2019/20 would have placed him third among FPL defenders, while his tally of 57 chances created in the same season would have seen him ranked fourth among his positional peers – although again, some weighting would have to be applied to the standard of competition.
Compared to his rival for the left-back position at United, Telles predictably outperforms Luke Shaw (£4.9m) offensively but the England international has the edge in some key defensive metrics.
Going back to the question we asked at the beginning of this piece: is Telles too good to be true from a Fantasy perspective?
The answer, sadly, might be a yes.
The Brazilian has relied massively on set-piece responsibilities for his attacking returns at Porto, especially when it comes to finding the back of the net: eight of his 11 strikes in 2019/20 and 14 of the 21 Liga NOS goals in his career came from the penalty spot.
Six of his eight assists last season arrived from corners, while two-thirds of his 57 chances created stemmed from set plays.
How much of a look-in he gets at dead-ball situations at Old Trafford is the key question here, with Bruno Fernandes (£10.5m) effectively having the monopoly on free-kicks, corners and penalties ever since the Portugal international moved to England earlier this year.
It seems unlikely that Telles will jump to the front of the queue for spot-kicks at United but, given that he is left-footed, his ability to swing in set-piece deliveries at different angles from the right-footed Fernandes may ensure that he at least gets a share of free-kicks and corners at his new club.
While his trademark flat long throw is also an interesting weapon, it hasn’t directly led to any assists in the Portuguese top flight.
Shaw’s place would look to be in some doubt following Telles’ arrival and his own individual display in the 6-1 thrashing by Spurs couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does have previous for rolling out a wing-back system, however, especially in the so-called “tougher” games.
The Gameweek 4 capitulation may prompt Solskjaer to rethink his usual 4-2-3-1 formation given how exposed Harry Maguire (£5.4m) was against the Lilywhites, and Shaw has arguably looked a lot better when playing as a left-sided centre-half in the past.
Telles and Shaw could even feature in the same side then, in some of United’s upcoming matches.
FPL investment in any of the Red Devils’ defence looks undesirable at present, given that they have shipped as many goals in their first three Premier League matches of 2020/21 (11) as they did in the final 17 fixtures of last season.
Games against Arsenal, Chelsea and top-of-the-table Everton are to come in the next four Gameweeks, so there may be little appetite for a United defender in the Fantasy community while confidence is at rock bottom – although the same could be said for a number of teams in this topsy-turvy campaign and there’s an argument to be had for merely buying the most attack-minded assets at the back.
Should the Red Devils even partly rediscover the form that saw them keep nine clean sheets in their last 14 matches of 2019/20, then attention switches to Telles.
Will he be Solskjaer’s first-choice option at left-back? And how much of a say will he have at set plays? Those two questions will be key to assessing his appeal and the stretch of games between now and the November international break seems like a good audition period, with more favourable fixtures to follow from Gameweek 9.
Long-range howitzers and a bombardment of crosses will see him accumulate a handful of attacking returns from open play even if Fernandes continues to hog free-kicks, corners and penalties, but United aren’t renowned for scoring goals from headers and his assist potential may suffer as a consequence.
As the below table shows, only Spurs had fewer headed goal attempts than the Red Devils last season.
The disappointing end product of Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.4m), whose cross success rate was a poor 13.6%, perhaps partly explains this but Anthony Martial‘s (£8.8m) tendency to drift away from the box often leaves United without a goal-hanging targetman, so the question has to be asked as to who exactly will be on the end of Telles’ abundance of deliveries.
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