The art of playing in the full-back position is arguably one of the most changed aspects of the game in the modern era. The requirements of the role are greater than they ever were and luckily we are blessed with some fine players in that position. Now when it comes to left-backs the assessment is that two of the best are giving their services in the Premiership- Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole. I know that this is a topic that has got people talking before and I see enough proof, having looked at both players, to suggest that Evra shades this battle as the finest no.3, not only in this league but also in Europe, although it is a close one.
There is a theory that Evra is better defensively and that Cole has the edge and is better on the offensive. Overall the performances of Evra are better in both departments because Cole has taken more time, especially with the way Chelsea played under Jose Mourinho, to prove that he is the player that we see in front of us today. If first impressions are anything to go by then I had my doubts about Evra’s signing after seeing how he struggled in his debut- a fixture against Manchester City at Eastlands. There he was outdone by Trevor Sinclair and it was immediately clear that here was a player that had a lot of work on his hands and he is now unrecognisable to the Evra of then to now. He now makes runs on the outside, inside and combines his pace to support the front men whilst looking equally comfortable in joining up with attacks to the point that he sometimes finds himself ahead of someone like Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov. Up until his injury, Ashley Cole was probably in his best form ever and has shown that he had Cristiano Ronaldo in his pocket on a number of occasions.
The former Manchester United left-back, Denis Irwin, clearly holds Evra in high esteem. He said: “Patrice is the number one, Ashley Cole has improved an awful lot this season but Patrice has come on a lot too and this year has been his best.” Irwin went one step further to say that the Frenchman should be United’s player of the season- ahead of Rooney. He stated: “Wayne Rooney has been tremendous, particularly over the past three months, but Patrice Evra has been every bit as good. He has been very consistent at a really high level. Regardless of what Wayne has done, Patrice has been our player of the season. Unfortunately for full-backs, centre-forwards get all the glory because they score goals.” These are some words from the respected Irwin and it is possible that someone like him sees Evra as the better player because of the all-round package. When organisations like UEFA/FIFA reveal who they think are the best 11 players in the year or the PFA Team of the Year are announced, then it won’t surprise me if Evra is in ahead of Cole. Cole is frequently in the news for the wrong reasons, potentially will have won less than Evra (both of these factors are usually taken in to consideration) and I feel that Evra is more fundamental to United’s chances of scoring than Cole is to Chelsea.
Evra’s left a mark as an impressive character at Old Trafford. I see him as someone who truly gives 100% in every game and one of the simple reasons why he is such an appreciated player is because of how he goes about his role in the midst of all the defenders that have been injured at United this season. He has been a real constant presence and clearly has a great level of fitness. If it is fair to say that Cole had got the better of Ronaldo than Evra’s displays against Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon, especially at the White Hart Lane fixture earlier this season, have shown that he is an ever improving left-back. Along with his attributes, Evra is a player that has come through the test of being the only recognised defender in the squad at times this season by just getting on with his game with the minimum of fuss.
So Chelsea may be missing Ashley Cole’s qualities on their left-hand side but a United team without Evra would be a much slower unit. He is now an essential part of the way the team attacks and has considerably improved his defending- and his lack of height is now hardly mentioned. I believe Evra is one of the first names on the team sheet, and how he is left on the bench for the French national team is beyond me. Evra has identified that the ‘unsung hero’ status suits him more than the fact that Cole seems to get involved in the limelight. It is players like Evra and Cole who are changing the definition of the way a full-back is seen but Evra is consistent and hardly suffers a blip in form. Since he is now firmly established as one of the most reliable defenders at United I see no-one that can replace him.
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