Patrice Evra: Were We Too Quick to Doubt the Manchester United Full-Back?

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Patrice Evra: Were We Too Quick to Doubt the Manchester United Full-Back?
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Patrice Evra

Hands up all those who criticised Patrice Evra for some of his Manchester United performances last season and maybe early this time.

Certainly guilty here.

And yet he has improved his all-round game to the point that we haven't noticed him as a liability any more.

Or has he?

In the early season matches that United kept snatching out of the fire it was clear that the problems that led to United being destroyed by City last season were still there.

One of the most obvious was that Evra mainly, but sometimes also Rafael, kept getting stranded up the pitch. That definitely happened in the City match last season as United were over-committed.

Part of the problem this season was the absence, due to injury, of Ashley Young. He may not be everybody's cup of tea but he is excellent at tracking and covering back, can put in a tackle and makes Evra look a better player.

So what Evra needed was better self-discipline (which seems like an odd thing to say about your Vice Captain).

Of course there was a balance to be struck, because if you take away his marauding up the left wing you have only half the player. For evidence of that, he has scored more goals this season alone than he scored in his entire previous Manchester United career.

The answer, of course, was obvious.

Mandate that when one wing back attacks up the pitch the other wing back must "stay at home."

Job done.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nemanja Vidic "Scores" Patrice Evra's Goal

Because when all is said and done, Evra is one of our most dangerous attacking players up the wing. And look at the number of times he has found himself near the six-yard box unmarked.

 

So what are Evra's qualities?

Of course Evra can tackle. He's just not the best in the team. Mind you he's far better than Paul Scholes...

But when you look at the world class wing backs, Marcello is no better than Evra on the defensive side.

Fabio Coentrao, on the other hand, is excellent, as well as being a deadly marauder, as the Real Madrid versus Manchester United match showed.

Evra does have pace, however, and as Sir Alex frequently suggests, the modern game, where players fall over at a puff of wind, is much more to do with covering and intercepting.

That doesn't change the fact that during the last few seasons it has at times been too easy for a winger or opposing wing back to either get past Evra or at least get a dangerous cross in.

So the answer once again comes back to "double-ganging." It pretty much worked on the other flank against Real Madrid with Rafael, Jones and Ronaldo, once the young Brazilian stopped diving in on every ball.

What must never be underestimated is Evra's other qualities. 

He's got pace and skill on the ball and has forged excellent attacking partnerships down the left flank with a string of other players.

He gets to the by-line and pulls back a cross.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Patrice Evra vs. Ronaldo: No Contest

He is possibly, inch for inch, the best header of a ball at Manchester United. Mind you, you wouldn't put him against Marouane Fellaini or Cristiano Ronaldo (as the latter's majestic, unstoppable header showed in the Bernabeu).

He's also not a bad leader. He is loved in the changing room and says all the right things. He just has to realise that sometimes you lead by staying back, or especially running back faster than he sometimes does.

 

So have we been unfair?

Where would you rate Evra as a wing back in the Premier League, let alone on the global stage? He certainly isn't in Leighton Baines' class, or even Gareth Bale when he has played left back.

Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson rates him because since his second season, no Manchester United player has played more games. Once again he's up there this season at the top of the "minutes played" stats for United in the Premier League.

He's not, however, the highest rated on player ratings. 

Take Sky Sports for example. Their own figures place Evra equal seventh on 6.5 out of 10; the fans' ratings place him equal 17th on 6.3 points.

You would have seen a similar pattern in previous seasons.

So what does he have to do to improve?

Patrice Evra started his footballing career as a striker and then a left winger and was somewhat reluctantly converted to a wing back at Monaco.

It all depends on what you want your wing backs to do.

Manchester United play attacking football. They alternate and overlap the wing back and wide midfield when they are on the attack.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Nani & Evra: Lethal Combination?

Put together Evra and Nani on the left and you have a potentially lethal combination, but don't expect either to bust a gut getting back if the attack breaks down.

However, if you play Young, Rooney or Welbeck with Evra you get much better covering.

The other thing that does supporters' heads in is when Evra fails to react to a situation or is blatantly caught out of position.

These were the two scenarios most in evidence in the drubbing by City and the horrible collapse to a 4-4 draw against Everton that lost the title last season.

 

In conclusion

Patrice Evra is Manchester United's vice captain. He loves United, would gladly finish his career at Old Trafford and would never knowingly let the side down.

He has never done to United what he did for his country at the last World Cup. If he did, he would be out of United before you could say "Jack Robinson," let alone getting a five-match ban. And that was as France's captain!

There have been rumours, even recently, that he might be on his way. He actually welcomed them, while implying that Sir Alex would not let him go.

He has one year left on his contract and while Michael Carrick has been given a new one-year rolling contract that doesn't mean Evra won't be offered the same. Or Rio Ferdinand for example.

The big questions are:

How much would Evra be missed if he went to PSG for example? 

And who would replace him?

Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Fabio & Rafael; Or Rafael & Fabio?

At the moment there is no ready-made replacement. Alexander Buttner has been given a few games and looks promising. Fabio has done OK at QPR and can reasonably be expected to progress as well as his brother Rafael. But he hasn't yet had the same amount of experience.

But a team like PSG might easily offer £10 million for Evra and there are already rumours that 19-year-old Lucas Digne has been lined up as a replacement. Apparently United would be left with change from Evra's fee.

Whether Digne comes in or Fabio comes back, a more likely scenario is that Evra will be progressively phased out next season. It is too late to buy Baines at 29.

In the meantime, based on the notable lack of criticism of Patrice in recent weeks, he is clearly having a more fruitful spell at left back. Maybe the added responsibility in Vidic's absence has done the trick?

Or maybe Sir Alex's change to the formation with only one wing back allowed upfield at a time (possibly nudged by England defensive coach Gary Neville), has made the difference?

Whatever the reason, Evra is by far one of United's fittest players and you can expect him to be leading the charge for the rest of the season, whether literally or metaphorically.

Luckily Ronaldo and Bale weren't on his flank but Angel di Maria is, so he'd better be on his game on 5 March.

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