In Focus: Malacia has World Cup in sights after nailing down United spot
Manchester United have enjoyed a welcome resurgence in the past month and left-back Tyrell Malacia has earned his fair share of the plaudits.
The £13million summer signing’s introduction to the Red Devils starting XI has coincided with a four-match Premier League winning streak, following a calamitous start to Erik ten Hag's reign.
Ahead of a potential start for the Netherlands in Poland tonight, we turn the spotlight on United’s new Dutch ace.
Taking his chance
Malacia, 23, was a relative unknown when he became Ten Hag’s first signing at Old Trafford in the summer, having spent the entirety of his career at Feyenoord up to that point.
His role in helping his boyhood club reach the Europa Conference League final last term was probably the first time an English audience would have been exposed to the full-back's capabilities.
But while clearly rated by Ten Hag from his time coaching Ajax in the Eredivisie, displacing established England international Luke Shaw from United's starting XI still appeared a tall order.
Though defeats to Brighton and Brentford were disastrous in many ways for Ten Hag, they did at least allow Malacia to get his chance to impress.
On spending his first two games starting on the bench, the No12 said: "I wasn’t stressed then. I know what my qualities are.
"I knew that, in the end, I would be a good competitor for that position. If I got that one chance, I would have to grab it.
"It didn’t work out [in the first two games], so then the manager made the choice to let me start against Liverpool. Then you have to turn up."
Since that victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford, United have looked a completely different animal.
They overcame their bitter rivals 2-1 before beating Southampton, Leicester and Premier League leaders Arsenal to lift themselves to fifth.
Malacia’s introduction for Shaw is just one of a number of big selection calls that have inspired their turnaround in fortunes.
But former full-back Gary Neville thinks it was the speedy and tough-tackling defender’s encouraging second-half introduction during the 4-0 loss to Brentford that proved the starting point of their revival.
The Sky Sports pundit said: "Some people will say it's the manager. Some people will say it's the changes that have been made.
"I will point to a little thing that I saw in the second half of the Brentford game and that's Tyrell Malacia. Someone on the pitch with a bit of personality, fight and spirit.
"But against Liverpool there was some tenacity and from that, what you're seeing is Diogo Dalot is a lot more aggressive. The midfield players are a bit more aggressive.
"It takes just one to show leadership, it doesn't have to be the shouter or the captain."
Suited to England
With pace to burn, strength and good positional sense, Malacia looks tailor-made to be a success in the Premier League.
As Neville alluded to, United have far too often lacked a player willing to put his body on the line for the team's cause — something their new defender has done on countless occasions already.
Only two left-backs in the Premier League have made more tackles per 90 minutes than the Dutchman (2.88) since his introduction into the fold.
And despite his relatively diminutive height, the powerhouse has lost only one of the four aerial duels he has contested.
He also looks comfortable bringing the ball out from the back, with long passes over opposition defences for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to chase becoming a common occurrence.
Much like with initially criticised defender Lisandro Martinez, United now look to be reaping the rewards of allowing Ten Hag to bring in a player he knows can carry out his philosophy.
World Cup dreams
Malacia’s move and subsequent form may have come at the perfect time for his international prospects, too.
The Rotterdam native has only five senior Netherlands caps to his name having made his debut just over a year ago.
But there are now murmurings that he could be the Oranje’s starting left wing-back heading into the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
Manager Louis van Gaal — a familiar name to United fans — has opted for Malacia in three of their last five outings, with another former Red Devil, Daley Blind, starting the other two.
And according to Netherlands great Wesley Sneijder, it is clear who should be in the XI when their tournament opener against Senegal on November 21 comes around.
He said: "I choose Malacia in my team, because he comes up high and is much higher. Then you get more into a 3-5-2 and I like that.
"And of course Blind can play football in those spaces, but he is vulnerable defensively. And we saw that again recently [for Ajax against Liverpool]. He wasn’t very defensive, was he?"
With no warm-up games before their campaign in the Middle East kicks off, a start tonight or against Belgium on Sunday may indicate a starring role at the World Cup is on the horizon.