Despite being ultimately responsible for Manchester United’s fortunes David Moyes has been protected by fans to date; the argument being that the new manager has been proffered too little time to impose his own philosophy on the club. Fair enough, although there have been victims during the Scot’s early period at the club, including Ashley Young who is now considered the main culprit of United’s poor start. It has brought into question the winger’s future at the club.
The staggering rise of Adnan Januzaj has certainly not helped the former Aston Villa player’s position, although there are few, if any, United players who are playing to their potential.
Last season’s 20th league trophy epitomised Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford – a decent squad went on to better more glamorous sides with little else but determination. In that three senior wingers – Antonio Valencia, Nani and Young – were collectively underwhelming, but England international was the best of the bunch.
Young boasted better shot accuracy and had more attempts at scoring than Nani and Valencia. The English winger created more chances per game as well. He also performed solidly in games against big sides when the Ecuadorian failed to impress and the Portuguese was not in the side at all. The fact that Young, who failed to score in 19 Premier League games, recorded better statistics than other senior wingers speaks to the genius of the retired United manager.
Young’s début season offered promise. Injuries limited the former Watford player to just 19 Premier League games, but he scored six goals and notched up seven assists. Prior to United’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester City, the Reds often deployed a swashbuckling 4-6-0 system where the front four of Young, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Nani roamed at will, with Anderson and Tom Cleverley supporting the front players with almost reckless runs into attacking midfield positions.
This season Moyes’ team is playing with more structure. Robin Van Persie and Rooney are deployed as a traditional strike partnership and the central midfield duo does not consistently support the forwards.
Dribbling has never been one of Young’s great strengths – last season the English forward attempted one take-on per game, while Valencia tried 2.9 times per fixture. United’s opposition successfully marshals Young down the left flank and forces the right footed forward away from areas where he can use his stronger foot.
However, Ferguson often used Young in big matches, where in counterattacking situations, there is more space for Young’s pace and his right foot to shine.
The England international suffered twice as many fouls as Nani or Valencia last season – one data points that suggests opponents found Young far more threatening than the latter two. Crucially Rooney’s presence in the middle took some attention away from the former Aston Villa winger.
In part Young’s future depends on how Moyes handles Rooney, with the Scouser making it abundantly clear he has no interest in playing in midfield. The English striker’s recent admission that he is “enjoying” playing up front is a clear threat to the new United manager – a demand to which Moyes has acquiesced. With there being no chance of the Scot dropping Rooney to play Shinji Kagawa, Young is unlikely to receive the more central attacking midfield support he needs to be effective.
With little hope for a more permanent role, Young’s transfer should be considered, although at 28 the former Villa player would need to be sold sooner than later. The trouble is with Young acquired for more than £17 million, with wages reportedly topping £130,000 per week, there are few that can afford the England international. Let alone a long line of club’s seeking his ‘talents’.
Still, if Arsenal can find room for the limited, if speedy, Theo Walcott then there is little reason why United can’t utilise a player of Young’s ilk. After all, Young is a highly versatile player who can play across attacking midfield. Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson’s comparison of Young and John O’Shea is prophetic after all.
Meanwhile, there is little role for Young elsewhere in the team, especially since Kagawa can’t get a game at number 10, the other position at which the England man has been used.
It leads to a conclusion – if Young remains at Old Trafford the right flank beckons. Young is a more direct than Valencia and the Englishman’s tendency to quickly cross could aid United in maintaining a high tempo, especially in counter-attacking situations. The former Wigan Athletic player’s tendency to get close to the box is becoming problematic to Moyes’ preferred game.
The fact that Young needs to cut in is a great hindrance on the left. On the opposite flank, though, the fact that Young can operate centrally is a burden to bear for the opposition. The Englishman has contributed defensively just as much as the Ecuadorian and a run on the right should be considered. Nani is more technically sound, and a greater attacking threat, but a more defensively responsible player is needed for certain occasions.
The burgeoning Januzaj will, of course, limit Young’s opportunities, and in any case, the current system will not bring out the best from the former Aston Villa player. But Moyes is likely to appreciate having a such versatile player in the squad and an experimental deployment on the right is tempting with Nani and Valencia struggling to convince.