United’s emphatic start to the season has seen the sort of sumptous attacking football normally reserved for FIFA2013 or that treble winning DVD that takes pride of place on your bookshelf. Defensively United have given us all plenty to worry about but while the goals scored keeps outnumbering the against column, even the more captious Reds have struggled to moan too much.
One man who seems to be receiving the praise that’s eluded him over the past few seasons is United’s stand-in skipper Patrice Evra. Ever since the World Cup 2010 debacle with France, many pundits and fans alike have claimed Evra hasn’t looked the same ultra-reliable player of the previous seasons.
I’ve lost count of the number of times since South Africa that I’ve defended Evra on both social networks and to friends in the pub as the claim “he’s a shadow of his former self” is repeated by his detractors. As I’ve said in the past and even more recently, the problem with Evra isn’t that he’s ‘lazy’ as some have claimed. In fact the only reason Evra has been the brunt of such vitriol- as his criticism usually reaches such levels- is because of the job he’s asked to do and the wingers he’s asked to do it with.
Look at Evra’s “golden era” if you will, circa 2006-09, when it seemed every United fan with a voice would argue we currently had the world’s best left back wearing our number 3 shirt. During that time there was often a certain Portuguese gentleman who would “play on the left” at times, usually causing the opposing right winger to abandon much of his attacking duties to try and help keep him quiet. Then there’s also the Ryan Giggs factor, a few years ago, the legendary Welshman was still capable of being used as a left winger and providing cover for Evra, when the left back bombed forward. More recently though even when Giggs has been deployed as a winger, he’s drifted inside a lot leaving Evra badly exposed when he’s made his runs forward. Before we all start foaming at the mouth at the slightest insuiation Ryan Giggs is anything other than perfect, if we’re honest I’m sure many of us can admit he’s not been a ‘winger’ for several seasons regardless of whether he’s been picked in that position. Ji Sung Park was another player who a few seasons ago could be called upon to not only play on the left side of midfield but also do his fair share of defensive work should Evra make the forward runs expected of him.
Last season Evra’s usual left sided partner was Nani a man who is to defending what John Terry is to race relations. I’m a Nani fan but even I find it a struggle to convince anyone- including myself- that the winger is prepared to always fulfill his defensive duties. All this seems to be forgotten though as Evra is constantly expected to get forward yet somehow get back should we lose possession, regardless of how quick the opposition counter. Take the 4-4 against Everton last season as a prime example, I saw many people deriding Evra for at least two of the Toffee’s goals- I even slipped into that mode myself such was my disappointment at the result. Yet watching the game again it was clear that Nani had gone to the man out wide and Evra had tucked in as he should’ve done. Simply put when a team mate is marking someone, you don’t leave the man/position you’re with to go and help him. We may be quick to moan about Evra getting forward, but would any of us gripe had his header gone in last season and put the game beyond Everton’s grasp?
The Buttner defence
As Evra has produced one sterling performance after another, I’ve heard the explanation “he’s finally had a kick up the arse cos Buttner’s arrived.” This explanation is only part right, yes Evra has benefitted from the Dutchman’s arrival but simply from a fitness not a motivational point of view. Do you honestly believe Evra, skippering the side, simply couldn’t be bothered last season and now a player who is never likely to usurp him as first choice left back- certainly not in the near future- has arrived he suddenly feels threatened and more motivated? I certainly don’t. The signing of Buttner has allowed Evra those precious extra days off that any player the wrong side of 30 greatly needs.
As Sir Alex noted when Buttner arrived:
“We have to protect the future. That is sensible. Evra is 31 and Alex comes to challenge that position.
“But nobody has played more games than Evra over the last five years. He has played with injuries — he has guts.
“He has been up and down that touchline for five years. It’s 240 games he has played. Patrice has been an absolute soldier.”
Evra played a staggering 56 games last season-even when carrying a knock- for both club and country meaning he naturally had very few games off. Evra only missed one league game all season yet has already benefitted in this campaign from being rested against Wigan for Buttner’s debut. As well as the league cup games, Buttner has also played in the Champions League giving Evra a break he was rarely afforded last season.
Help from the Young
While I’m not Ashley Young’s biggest fan one thing he cannot be faulted for is his willingness to track back and this is another reason Evra seems to be receiving less criticism, he’s finally got the cover any attacking full back needs.
Evra seems to be persona non grata with a lot of Reds, with even his outstanding games receiving some form of “he should do it more often” dig. The game against CFR Cluj was a case in point, Evra was poor in the first half, which every one with access to the internet seemed to jump on, yet when his performance rose in the second half to much better levels, hardly a murmur was heard- imagine if Wayne Rooney was treated the same way.
Patrice hasn’t suddenly regained his mojo, he’s benefitting from the rest a player of his age needs and the cover any attacking full back demands and it’s great to see him once again getting the respect any United stalwart deserves.