Tag Ashley Young

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Ashley Young: a tactical profile

October 19, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 16 comments

Ashley Young is a curious character. Not as innately talented as Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo, yet the Englishman has managed to establish himself on the left-flank at Manchester United following a £16 million move from Aston Villa in the summer. Plenty of fans were surprised by the move, questioning Young’s value to the club. But it was Young’s flexibility as much as his raw talent that attracted Sir Alex Ferguson.

Indeed, when the 26-year-old signed on at Old Trafford, Ferguson compared the former Watford player to a former utility man, now departed for Sunderland. “… John O’Shea, for instance, wasn’t in a starting position all the time but, because of his versatility, he made nearly 400 appearances for us in his career here,” claimed the United manager.

Young is similar to the Irishman in that he is an adaptable player who can be deployed in a variety of positions – a real jack of all trades. One must then ask whether the Englishman is a master of anything?

One of the English international’s strengths is his athleticism. Young is fast, blazing past markers on the flanks and quickly roaming across the field as a central attacking midfielder. With the player’s great agility and balance, Young makes a formidable opponent. Judging by his frequent forays into defensive positions, the Englishman also possesses great stamina as well.

Young is also an excellent deliverer of crosses and set pieces, which has been missing from United’s armory for some time. For that alone, Young must be considered an integral part of United’s first team because there is nobody – bar, perhaps, Ryan Giggs – who can offer good free kicks and corners. But Young is no Rory Delap – the winger is not solely in the side to provide good dead ball delivery.

Ashley Young Heatmap

Figure 1. Source: Guardian. Click for larger image.

The problem with Young lies in his other assets, which by no means poor, are not exceptional. Consider Young’s passing. While proficient, the midfielder’s passing lacks imagination and creativity. Perhaps Young is simply still acclimatising but too often his passes, especially those of a more adventurous nature, have been weighted and executed poorly. For this reason alone Young should only be considered for the attacking midfield/second striker role as the last resort – especially when Wayne Rooney, Giggs, and even Anderson can play the role.

Another concern is Young’s movement.  As an “inverted” winger, Young should look to cut in more, allowing Patrice Evra to overlap. Figure 1, left, demonstrates that Young has remained predominantly on the flank, hitting the byline and getting chalk on his heels one.

Comparing Young’s movement to Luis Nani, Figure 2 below, demonstrates just how glued to the touchline Young really is. As a right footer, Young needs to check back before crossing. While these inswinging crosses can be extremely dangerous they are harder to pull off once the winger approaches the byline. In addition, given that Young can shoot from distance, it is curious why he doesn’t exercise that option more frequently by drifting infield.

Perhaps the reason is Young’s dribbling, which is not at Nani’s level. Young prefers to beat a man with blistering pace and not clever trickery on the floor. Given this predisposition, Young’s obsession with hitting the byline makes sense as he need only beat the full-back with pace. It is not so easy to cut in to the middle where there are midfielders and central defenders to worry about.

Nani Heatmap

Figure 2. Source: Guardian. Click for a larger image.

If it wasn’t for Ferguson’s other options Young would probably be better deployed as a classic wide man on the right. One disturbing thing about all of this is the fact that Young is ill-suited to modern formations such as 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. In 4-4-2, Young has a bit of space to accelerate before facing the full-back. In 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as a winger, Young directly faces his marker and no space to gain momentum.

Young’s limitation, in essence, boils down to one issue – predictability. There is no doubting that Young is a good player but, to truly cement his place in United’s first team, he must learn to play with a more flair. Against the very best sides, such as Barcelona, Young will be more easily countered, just as he has been against Chelsea and Liverpool in recent matches. He must rely less on pace and develop his game to yet another level.

Poll: Will Ashley Young be a success at United?

June 27, 2011 Tags: , Polls 18 comments

England international Ashley Young completed the formalities on a £15 million transfer last week, adding to Sir Alex Ferguson’s options in attack. The transfer caps a memorable year for 25-year-old former Watford player, who has broken into Fabio Capello’s England team after missing out on selection for the 2010 World Cup squad. However, despite the player’s progress with Aston Villa over the past 12 months not all Manchester United supporters are happy with the acquisition, questioning Young’s quality.

Moreover, with Nani and Antonio Valencia both preferring United’s right flank, Young will likely be used on the left – a position that Capello does not believe brings out the best in the new recruit. So, will the £15 million man be a success at Old Trafford or do the critics have it right?

Poll: Will Ashley Young be a success at United?

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Young deal close so what now for Nani?

June 22, 2011 Tags: Opinion 40 comments

Ashley Young successfully completed at medical at Bridgewater Hospital today ahead of the Aston Villa winger’s £15 million transfer to Old Trafford. The test, just three miles East of United’s home turf, was the latest formality in a much-anticipated move by the England international. It will likely be officially confirmed when the transfer window opens on 1 July but there is now little doubt that the 25-year-old will join Sir Alex Ferguson’s roster for next season.

But with Antonio Valencia now Ferguson’s preferred choice on the right flank there is an increasing feeling that Portuguese winger Nani’s four-year spell in Manchester has now come to an end. It is an exchange in personnel that does not obviously upgrade United’s squad.

Young, who joined Villa for £9.75 million from Watford in 2007, will more than double is wages to £120,000 per week at Old Trafford after choosing the Premier League champions ahead of a move to Liverpool this summer. Much as Blackburn Rovers defender Phil Jones had earlier this month. The transfer marks the zenith of rapid progress over the past year for Stevenage-born Young, who has also forced his way in Fabio Capello’s England, scoring against Denmark and Switzerland this season.

No longer a youngster perhaps, but Young’s progress towards Old Trafford was not born of an auspicious start. Initially rejected by Watford as a teenager, the player eventually broke in Ray Lewington’s side during the 2003/4 season, making five appearances from the bench. But it wasn’t until 2005/6 that Young achieved a real breakthrough in professional football, with more than 40 appearances for the Hornets, scoring 14 times and creating 13 in the Championship.

An excellent start the following season in the Premier League increased interest in the player, drawing a £10 million bid from West Ham United during the January transfer window. Young rejected the move before forcing through a transfer to Villa; a sign of the determination to play at a higher level that would be repeated this season.

“I’ve always said that I’m an ambitious person. To play in the biggest competitions, the European Championships, the Champions League, FA Cup finals, League Cup finals, the World Cup, the Euros,” said Young earlier this season, signalling his Villa departure.

“I want to play in them all. Every player would want to win trophies, titles and medals. I’m no different. I’m an ambitious person like any other person who’s in football.”

Young’s improvement are born out in his statistics, which are a touch better than average this season, having scored nine and assisted 15 in a poor Villa side. It’s around par for the course for a player who has achieved a greater level of consistency at Villa Park in a variety of positions. By contrast United’s Nani scored 13 and created 17 in all competitions this season and that comes after the Portuguese lost his place to Valencia in the final weeks of the campaign.

Yet, for all Young’s progress over the past four years with Villa there is an inherent feeling that the player has already reached his peak. Certainly, if players coming to Old Trafford fit two camps – those who will improve United’s first XI, and those whom fans hope will improve to the level of United’s XI – then Young is firmly in the latter. Certainly few fans will buy the argument that Young enhances United’s first team; nor will Europe’s finest be overly concerned at Ferguson’s new addition.

Then there is the question of Young’s place in the United side. After all the player has excelled as a deep-lying striker with Villa over the past year; the position in which Wayne Rooney showed such outstanding form towards the back-end of last season. It points to a place on United’s flank.

However, those closest to the player believe that he will flourish centrally. Capello, for example, left the Villain out of England’s recent draw with Switzerland not for poor form but because “Young is a really good player in a good moment. But I think the position for him to play is not the left or right-wing but just in the centre of the midfield because he can attack the space really good.”

Former club manager Gerrard Houllier made a similar argument earlier in the season, stating that Young can only become “world class” as a shadow striker. “I like himto play in that position to be fair,” said Houllier. “He can be a real specialist. He can be a striker and he can also be a link between the midfield and the attack.”

Unless Ferguson plans to drop Javier Hernández and deploy Rooney as United’s ‘number nine’ once again, then Young will surely compete for a place on Ferguson’s left-wing.

What then of Nani, who seems certain to head to Spain or Italy this summer. Indeed, despite Young’s acquisition it is United’s failed pursuit of Udinese’s Alexis Sánchez – a player the club has watched for three years without making a bid – that offers the clearest indication Nani will end four years at Old Trafford.

After all, rumours of the Portuguese’s dissatisfaction with a contract that has two years to run have become more than a whisper in recent weeks. That United has done little to quell the speculation about the club’s Player of the Year says much.

In that scenario the question becomes whether swapping Young for Nani has improved or degraded Ferguson’s team. Of course, supporters posed the same rhetorical question of Valencia before the Ecuadorian’s £14 million move from Wigan Athletic two years ago. Valencia, who is only six months younger than the Villa forward, has been a huge hit at Old Trafford despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.

Young will certainly join the Ecuadorian Manchester; time will tell whether he is also a success.

Ashley Young facts

Born 9 July 1985, Stevenage, England

Watford: 110 appearances, 22 goals
Aston Villa: 190, 38
England U21: 10, 1
England: 15, 2

Watford Young Player of the Season: 2004/5
PFA Young Player of the Year: 2008/9

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Young deal on the cards; will he fit?

April 11, 2011 Tags: Opinion 60 comments

It’s not often that Rant comments on transfer speculation, after all there are plenty of red tops chasing paper sales that suit the practice better. More to the point, there has been so little activity of note in recent seasons that speculation is, by definition, an exercise in futility. However, recent tabloid commentary about Aston Villa’s 25-year-old winger-come-forward Ashley Young not only has merit but might point to a deal that brings quality to Old Trafford at a price Sir Alex Ferguson considers ‘value’.

Such is the recent heightened speculation about Young that former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jamie Redknapp assumes a transfer North is a done-deal. After all, his father, Spurs boss Harry, knows a thing or two about doing a deal and will have sounded-out the player, whose Villa deal expires in 2012.

Indeed, there is more than a whiff of Antonio Valencia’s transfer to United in summer 2009; a deal which United had effectively completed six months previously.

“Ashley Young looks better every time I see him, he has electric pace and dribbles with his head up; he looks a future Manchester United player to me, and an ideal replacement for Ryan Giggs,” said Redknapp today.

“Aston Villa will have to cash in on the England winger in the summer rather than let him go on a free next season.”

No Ryan Giggs of course, but Young’s star is on the rise; a talent that has progressed in each season since the player made his Premier League début with Watford in 2006. Moreover, United is a left-winger short though, with Giggs in his 38th year and Park Ji-Sung injury-prone and normally earmarked for a specific defensive job in the Champions League.

In fact Sir Alex Ferguson is heavily reliant on the pair, whom have played 51 times between them to date this season. Giggs has signed a new one-year deal with the club, keeping the Welsh legend at Old Trafford for one final hurrah, although Park is yet to extend a contract that runs out in 2012. The South Korean’s form this season is patchy enough to question his long-term future in Manchester.

Meanwhile, Young has progressed under Gerard Houllier even if his Villa team has gone decidedly backwards. Used as an orthodox winger by previous coach Martin O’Neil, Frenchman Houllier has discovered a greater flexibility in the player, with Young frequently deployed right or left in a forward three or ‘in the hole’ behind a target man this season. In fact, just the kind of adaptable forward Ferguson treasures.

Young’s statistics are a touch better than average this season, having scored eight and assisted 13 in a poor Villa side. It’s somewhat lower than the 17 assists credited to the former Watford player in 2007-08, although the player has half-a-dozen games to correct the statistics. By contrast, United’s Nani has 10 goals and 16 assists in all competitions this season.

The player would welcome a move to United of course, with Villa in free-fall this season and unlikely to qualify for European competition. Having broken into the England side since the World Cup, Young is unlikely to countenance another season in mid-table ahead of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

“It’s always nice to be linked to those sort of teams [Spurs, United, Liverpool] but I’m an Aston Villa player, I’ve got a year left of my contract. I just want to do well for the club,” said Young this week, in the usual heavily media-trained guff that footballers normally emit before signing elsewhere at the first available opportunity.

“I’ve always said that I’m an ambitious person. To play in the biggest competitions, the European Championships, the Champions League, FA Cup finals, League Cup finals, the World Cup, the Euros, I want to play in them all. Every player would want to win trophies, titles and medals. I’m no different. I’m an ambitious person like any other person who’s in football.”

The question for United is twofold: is Young good enough for the club and is the deal at the right price? Certainly, Young’s price-tag is likely to be the Glazer family’s liking given the players contract situation. If Gareth Barry’s transfer to Manchester City for around £12 million in 2009 is a benchmark then United may just be close to sealing a bargain for a player whose star is on the rise.

Yet, United supporters will rightly ask questions of Young’s pedigree. After all, the 25-year-old is no top performer in the Champions League, nor is he an 18-year-old with a world of progress ahead. On the cusp of United’s upper age-bracket for transfers, Young can add only to the Reds’ squad resources rather than take Ferguson’s team significantly forward.

Supporters asked the same questions of Valencia though, before the Ecuadorian’s £14 million move from Wigan Athletic. And Valencia, who is only six months younger than the Villa forward, has been a huge hit at Old Trafford. Time will tell whether Young will join the Ecuadorian; in Manchester and success.

United to go for Huntelaar? But better with Young

July 8, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 13 comments

While Rant rarely engages in idle gossip, newspaper reports have once again linked United with a £20 million move for Real Madrid outcast Klass-Jan Huntelaar. It’s not the first time that the club has apparently expressed an interest in the former Ajax player, who scored eight goals in 20 games for for the Spanish club last season. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly been tracking the striker before his £19 million move to Madrid in January.

However, the arrival at Real of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema this summer means that Huntelaar will be available for transfer, just six months after moving to Spain. The forward, who has scored 13 goals in 23 appearances for the Dutch national team, has become a victim of President Florentino Perez’ bank-loan inspired revolution at Real.

The question is, do United really need another central striker? That is not to doubt Huntelaar’s quality as a goalscorer, who’s record at international and club level is better than a goal every other game. But with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen now at the club, there would seem to be little room for another forward. Indeed, there was really little point bringing Owen into the squad if Ferguson is also after Huntelaar as both occupy the same role. This argument is even more pertinent when youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda are brought into the equation.

At the same time, the club has also been linked with a £25 million move for Aston Villa’s excellent winger Ashley Young. The former Watford wide-man has progressed immensely in the past two seasons to become a regular in Fabio Capello’s England team. However, for a player who is unproven at international or Champions League level, Young would cost a fortune. Primarily because United would be shopping at one of the league’s leading teams, but also because there’s always a premium on English talent.

But United are weak in wide areas, despite having Ryan Giggs, Nani, Zoran Tošić, Ji-Sung Park, and new signings Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan in the squad. Serbian wonderkid Adem Ljajić is also due to join the club in January 2010. But Giggs aside none are proven at the highest level, and unfortunately the legendary Welshman is in the twilight of his career.

Together with Valencia, Young would add extreme pace in wide areas – something United will lack through the middle of the park next season. While Tošić, Ljajić and Obertan may well prove themselves in the long term, nothing is guaranteed. Park, meanwhile, deserves his place in the squad as a willing worker but is never going to win a game on his own. Nani is in the last chance saloon.

Young, although frighteningly expensive, will be available if he expresses his desire to leave and does have the requisite quality to make a real difference at the top level. He would surely be a better use of more than £20 million.