If Sir Alex Ferguson keeps persisting with the young defender, by choice or neccessity, Manchester United’s title challenge might be over by January.
Just last week, I wrote this post about how Jonny Evans, upon closer scrutiny, had been responsible for goals conceded in three games this season where the opposition had come from behind to draw level with United.
Unfortunately, he’s done it again. But let’s have a little recap of his early season mishaps so far, shall we?
1. Against Fulham, he failed to track a runner into the penalty area, and having belatedly tried to follow him and gotten sucked away from his central defensive post, failed to block his cross which resulted in Fulham’s first goal. Fulham would go on to draw 2-2.
2. At Everton, United were 3-1 up and coasting. In injury time, Evans lost focus, misjudged the flight of the ball, and allowed Tim Cahill to sneak in right behind him and head home a goal to make it 3-2. It gave Everton the shot in the arm they needed to rally and make it 3-3.
3. At home against Liverpool, Evans displayed the speed and mental dexterity of a water buffalo when Fernando Torres fooled him into making a reckless lunge resulting in a penalty. Liverpool would go on to level the sccores after being down 2-0, but thankfully, being at home, United were able to conjure a winner.
4. And once again, against Bolton last weekend, Evans was at his shaky best. Up against the imposing figures of Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander, Evans predictably shirked.
He was badly caught out for Bolton’s opener, barely moving as Zat Knight, the man Evans was supposed to be marking and Bolton’s obvious dangerman from set-pieces (Knight is 6ft 6 in), flicked the ball in from a corner under virtually zero pressure from Evans.
That’s FOUR times already, Evans has given away cheap goals this season. That’s just not good enough at this level.
And I’m glad I’m not the only who thinks so. One of my favourite writers at Soccernet, Richard Jolly, highlighted the same problems with Evans after the Bolton game, bringing up his earlier mistakes against Everton and Liverpool, and writing about how he struggled against Johan Elmander, previously one of the biggest flops in the Premier League.
To be fair to the Ulsterman, he has considerable promise. But at the rate he’s going, his confidence will be rock bottom by January, and for all the talent in the world, he won’t be able to stop shipping goals once he loses that belief in himself. Just ask Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson is playing a dangerous game by constantly sticking him in these tough away games. The ice-cool calmness Evans exuded when he first broke into the first team is now melting away into an ugly, frustrated mess with each goal he concedes.
Moreover, Ferguson is still sticking with his usual formation, one that doesn’t feature a specialist defensive midfielder. United are one of the only tops teams that still plays a flat midfield four – Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and even Arsenal all deploy a midfield hachetman (or two).
That system worked in United’s last few Championship wins largely thanks to their rock solid back four of Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra.
But now, only two of that famous four remain, and even then Evra has not been his usual self after god knows how many years of non-stop football, not to mention the mental strain of having played under Raymond Domenech.
Here for the long run
But Ferguson seems to be looking at the long term, not willing to risk Ferdinand’s availability for the rest of the season by throwing him back in to the rough and tumble of the Premier League before he is 100% fit.
The other alternative would be to partner Nemanja Vidic with Wes Brown or John O’Shea, but Ferguson’s belief in young talent has often been rewarded, and maybe he believes Evans would be better for this chastening experience.
Whatever his logic is, United can ill afford to draw many more games especially when Chelsea, their blip against Man City aside, continue to brush aside all comers.
The draw is the new loss in the Premier League, and teams have learnt over the last two seasons from Man City and Liverpool how costly a draw can be in the uber-competitive Premier League.
Teams would rather fight tooth and nail for victories now than sit back and hope for a draw, and because of that, United, and Jonny Evans in particular, might find it increasingly difficult to get wins, or even draws, on the road.