On June 23rd it was confirmed that England winger Ashley Young had joined Manchester United on a five year deal for a reported £17 million. The sometimes midfielder, sometimes striker said that “The opportunity to come to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world is one I couldn’t turn down.” Young is another quality signing by Sir Alex Ferguson as he looks to bolster his squad ahead of what will be a tough Premier League and Champions League campaign next season. With the 25 year-old’s services acquired then, just what role will he play in the United team over the next year?
The issue Ferguson has now, of course, is that he has three (and, arguably, four) in-form wingers in his squad, with only two spots in the first team for them to occupy.
Antonio Valencia missed the first half of the 2010-2011 season when he broke his ankle in a Champions League game with Rangers on September 14th. The Man Utd team clearly missed his alarming pace down the right-hand side and the great service he offers to strikers. His return to action on March 12th sparked an upsurge in form for the Red Devils. In my opinion, there is no way Ashley Young, as fantastic a player as he is, should be pushing Valencia out of the first team.
That means that Nani’s place as Man United’s left-sided winger is in jeopardy. He knows it too, despite his statements to the contrary saying that, “It is good for the team – we want more [players] to help us to win trophies.” It is clear that this latest signing has troubled Nani, a man who enjoyed his best season yet at Old Trafford this past year. Indeed, when fellow countryman Christiano Ronaldo made his £80 million move to Spain, it was Nani who was expected to step up his game and fill the void. Nani at times this season was unplayable, however the issue is that he does not have the consistency of Valencia. Or Young, for that matter.
Nani has blistering pace but too often he slows down near the corner flag and tries to use his flashy skills to beat the defenders. Although this can sometimes be fun to watch, it is not as effective as Valencia’s method of bombing forward and leaving the left back for dead. However, when he cuts inside to take long range shots, the results can be incredible. Nani scored some phenomenal goals this season by doing just that and Young has that aspect to his game too. I honestly think that if anyone is going to get pushed out of the Man Utd first team because of Ashley Young’s arrival at Old Trafford, it will be Nani.
Of course, there are other players competing for places. Perrenial big match player Park Ji Sung, for example, has often played down the left wing. However, I would not be surprised to see Park, who is not a natural winger despite his blistering pace, shifted into the centre of midfield alongside Ryan Giggs for the big games whilst Young and Valencia became the regular starting wingers. If not though, it will be interesting to see who does get picked to play on the wings for Manchester United’s big matches; Young and Park? Valencia and Park? Young and Valencia? They are all frightening prospects for any opposing defensive line.
The other possibility for where Ferguson will play their new signing is as a second striker, a position in which Young has also thrived. However, if we’re being realistic, can anyone see him pushing either Wayne Rooney or Javier Hernandez out of the first team? Perhaps Ferguson will look to switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 with Rooney, Hernandez and Young playing as the forward three. After all, this formation with Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez worked brilliantly just a few seasons ago and Ferguson may be keen to use it again here. Although why would he mess with a Hernandez-Rooney strike partnership which is already flourishing? Nevertheless, it is an interesting option for Ferguson to try out, perhaps.
All in all, there are a variety of places where Ashley Young could be played in his first season at Old Trafford. All are possible but the most likely is that we’ll be seeing him down the left flank every week. Sorry Nani but it looks like you may be keeping the bench warm again.
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