A man reborn or a continued liability at Old Trafford?
For a player that was supposedly well on his way towards irreversible decline last season, even Patrice Evra’s fiercest critics would have a job digging into the Frenchman this term. The ex-Monaco man may have resembled a figure of uncertainty within the Manchester United back four last season, but from what we’ve seen so far, he seems back to his effervescent best.
While some were perhaps overzealous in their critique of a man who played 37 league games for a United side that ultimately only lost the title on goal difference, the 31-year-old was certainly lacking in the authority and assuredness that we’d become so used to seeing since he arrived in England back in 2006. And that’s putting it mildly.
But this season we’ve seen something resembling the real Patrice Evra back in a Manchester United shirt and he seems to have brought his shooting boots along for the first time in living memory, too. Evra has put away four goals so far this term and he’d probably have you know that tally should be five, following the awarding of United’s winner against Liverpool to his defensive counterpart Nemanja Vidic.
One bad season doesn’t make you a bad player and at times last term, while the frustration aimed towards him wasn’t by any means embraced by anything approaching the majority of the Old Trafford crowd, Evra’s performances last season were at times, some way off the high level of expectation he’d set for himself.
With a lack of anything in the way of genuine competition at left-back, complacency was a word that seems to have been banded about at times torwards Evra last term and rumours linking Sir Alex Ferguson with a swoop for Leighton Baines seemed to gain in prominence as the campaign wore on. Was this the proverbial kick up the backside the Frenchman needed? Who knows, but either way United fans have been treated to a refreshed and reformed defender this term.
Yet while many seem happy to champion Evra as king of the left-backs once more, it’s worth noting that in the Premier League’s top ten, only West Bromwich Albion possess an inferior defensive record to the 29 goals that Fergie’s men have shipped so far. That’s ten more than second placed Manchester City, third placed Chelsea and dead equal with Martin O’Neill’s 14th placed Sunderland.
You hardly have to have even watched much of United this season to gauge that that their seven-point Premier League lead has been based upon irrepressible attacking gusto rather than solid defensive steel and a Robin van Persie-backed 56 goal haul for the side is homage to their irresistible form in front of goal.
Although Patrice Evra has hardly got off scott free for the barrage of flack that Fergie’s back line has taken over the last couple of months, the popular area of blame has tended to lie with an ever-changing central defensive partnership and an uncertain presence in between the sticks, with neither David de Gea or Anders Lindegaard yet to solidify themselves as number one at Old Trafford.
Yet while Evra hasn’t been without his faults this season, from a defensive perspective anyway, he’s been as good as any of his more vaulted peers within the Barclays Premier League.
Both the aforementioned Baines and even Chelsea’s soon-to-be out of contract Ashley Cole have been linked with moves to Old Trafford in recent weeks. Although it might surprise some to hear that Evra has won more aerial duels, made more successful tackles, blocked more shots and made more clearances than either Cole or Baines. Not bad for a man still dubbed to be something of a weak link in some quarters this season.
Indeed, Evra’s ability in the air this season has been a hugely underrated weapon in the United defense, with the left-back winning a dominating 48 out of 66 aerial battles, compared with Baines (8/18) and Cole (11/21). If the Everton and Chelsea duo are the yardstick as to which the league’s left-backs must be measured against, then Evra’s not doing too badly for himself, is he?
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s going forward in which Evra hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders. His personal contribution to Ferguson’s side with four goals can only be applauded, but in terms of his wider play, he’s maybe not quite the marauding force of old.
Out of his 56 attempted crosses, only 14 of them have hit the target, and while that statistic in itself can be somewhat misleading, Baines’ 66 accurate balls out of 205 attempts tell a story in itself. Still, the revered attacking prowess of Chelsea’s Cole has produced a sorry three accurate crosses out of an attempted 29.
Statistics will never tell the entire story but even if you’re looking to pick holes in Evra’s all round play, defensively the Frenchman has more than held his own amongst the generally more favoured duo of Leighton Baines and Ashley Cole. And for United fans, that’s all that matters.
Naturally, Patrice Evra is never going to be the player he was at the peak of his powers a few years ago, but fans need to move on from the season endured last term and start focusing on the present. Because if they do, they might just realize that for however unfashionable Evra is compared to the all singing, all dancing Leighton Baines, they still possess one of the finest left-backs in the country.