Feisty United loanee edges ahead in City left-back battle
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It's taken Brandon Williams a little while to settle in at Norwich City but the young full-back is starting to show why he already has 50 Manchester United appearances on his CV.
The 21-year-old has been competing with Dimitris Giannoulis for the starting role on the left and had started five games on the spin under Daniel Farke. However, a change in formation from the former head coach changed things.
Playing as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation during the 2-0 loss at Everton in late September, Giannoulis returned to the starting XI for the goalless draws with Burnley and Brighton, despite not being to blame for either goal at Goodison Park.
The Greece international was hauled off at half-time by Farke during the 7-0 capitulation at Chelsea though, just as he had been during the 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City in August - although on that occasion it was Bali Mumba coming on, ahead of Williams' arrival on a season-long loan.
The United prospect had to wait one more match though, with Andrew Omobamidele surprisingly starting at left-back in the 2-1 home defeat to Leeds that effectively sealed Farke's fate.
His forward surges during the 2-1 win at Brentford had been combined with City losing their way in the second half and having to cling on to the victory amid an aerial bombardment.
During the 2-1 win over Southampton on Saturday that kicked off the Dean Smith era in an ideal fashion, Williams was able to lay down a marker for future performances - particularly in the second half, like most of the City players.
The youngster had arrived with a reputation for a fiery temper and a no-nonsense attitude, coming from a boxing family and being the cousin of reigning Commonwealth super-featherweight champion Zelfa Barrett.
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Twice in the early stages of the second half he stepped up and pressed high, helping City get on the attack in the final third, leading to Milot Rashica's low shot testing Saints keeper Alex McCarthy and a Josh Sargent shot that was deflected wide a few minutes later.
The loanee was fired up for the challenge and took the bait to earn himself a naive yellow card in the 64th minute, after stumbling into a challenge and clattering into Tino Livramento.
At first it looked like referee Martin Atkinson wouldn't be getting a card out of his pocket but then towering centre-back Jan Bednarek unnecessarily blew the situation up and shoved Williams, who couldn't resist giving the Pole a shove in the chest in response and sparking a minor melee - earning both a booking.
There was a lesson in that situation, which is what a loan from one of the Premier League big boys is all about, but Smith will want to see more control in a situation that could have easily gotten out of hand.
There was also a big roar of appreciation for Williams in the 89th minute as he used his strength to see the ball out for a goal-kick under pressure, as City successfully saw out the win - although thanks in large part to Theo Walcott heading a great chance wide in injury-time.
After back-to-back wins, it would appear the Mancunian has the advantage over his more experienced team-mate, but there is little of note between them statistically in the Premier League so far this season.
Williams has played 581 minutes, as opposed to 382 for Giannoulis, who has won another four international caps this season to take his Greece tally to 18.
The loanee is tied with skipper Grant Hanley as averaging the most interceptions per 90 minutes in the City squad, with Giannoulis ranked 10th with an average of 1.2.
The Greek has the edge for successful tackles (2.1 per 90 mins) over Williams (1.9) and also for clearances (2.6 compared to 1.2) and successful dribbles (3.3 compared to 1.1).
With Ben Gibson finding form and fitness in recent weeks at left centre-back and Milot Rashica also looking far more comfortable after being switched to the left against the Saints, it would appear a better blend is emerging on the left.
As is the case throughout the City squad though, the required revival is still in its early stages and the search for consistent form is far from finished.
The one-cap England Under-21 international, similarly to Chelsea loanee Billy Gilmour, now has the chance to truly establish himself at Norwich - knowing that Giannoulis will be desperate for chances to impress the new boss as well.
Neither player has contributed an assist yet though and with right-back Max Aarons registering his first of the season on Saturday, the race is on for the left-backs to start their contributions as well.