I nearly began writing a post two weeks ago that was to be entitled, “Time for Ashley Young to Prove Himself.” It was my opinion that he hadn’t really lived up to the hype that surrounded his move from Aston Villa at the beginning of last season.
While his performances in general have been solid rather than spectacular, Young was in danger of becoming a one trick pony. It seemed inevitable that Young would receive the ball in a stationery position on the left touchline and attempt to cut back on his right foot for a cross or shot, or else unconvincingly topple to the ground to win a free kick. The only significant part of his reputation to increase since his arrival is his known ability to dive. Indeed, if you type ‘Ashley Young’ into Google, the second suggestion that comes up is “Ashley Young Dive”. I think in many ways, Young was lucky that there was so much media attention and focus on David de Gea’s performances last season. This allowed him the opportunity to settle into United life quietly and somewhat under the radar, something that is not usually afforded to £16 million signings.
Its no secret that Antonio Valencia is our best winger these days. He is the definition of consistant and dependable, and is a winger that opposition fullbacks hate to play against. When Valencia was injured last month, Sir Alex reverted to a midfield diamond formation, where Young was the obvious loser. It seems that Ferguson would rather have no wingers at all than start with two of Danny Welbeck, Nani and Young on the flanks. To me this is fair enough as well. Welbeck is definitely a center forward, and Nani looks to be on his way after the reported training ground bust-ups and prolonged contract sagas.
However, in the last two games, Young has given a glimpse of what he can offer this United side. He went on a brilliant run in the derby to set up Wayne Rooney’s opener and provided another goal for man of the moment Robin van Persie on the weekend against Sunderland. These two assists aside, Young’s general play in both games was much better, and he seems to have rediscovered the confidence needed to demand the ball and run at defenders.
Patrice Evra’s form over the last year and a half has been much more intensely scrutinized and debated in the media and amongst United fans. The formerly unshakeable fullback’s defensive work began to weaken to the point where he was actually targeted by opposing teams, and uncharacteristic individual mistakes had snuck into his game. He has also become a different player going forward. Overlapping runs seem to becoming less frequent and the end product has been generally quite poor. In saying this I thought Evra was one of our very best against Sunderland, although you won’t see his name next to any media man of the match awards. He looked to get forward where possible, and his defensive work was solid and dependable like the Evra of old. Aside from a chance he perhaps should have done better with in the first half, it’s hard to criticize his performance on the weekend. After Alexander Buttner’s brilliant Premier League debut, many thought that Evra would be lucky to keep his place in the team. However, Buttner’s hot and cold moments since then in the Champions League, is evidence that the Dutchman is still a bit raw and rash to be United’s starting left back at the moment. So for the foreseeable future, it will be the Frenchman in that positon. Lets hope his form continues to improve.
Much has been made of United’s brilliant right side combination of Rafael and Valencia who have been two of United’s better players this season along with van Persie. The pair seem to have built up a wonderful understanding and its obvious to observers that they read each other’s play very well. Rafael picks the right moments to burst ahead of Valencia, and Valencia knows when to go with Rafael but is also smart enough to drop back and cover the vacant right fullback position when needed. Lets hope for United’s sake, Young and Evra can develop a similar understanding.
Follow me on Twitter: @levibarrow