Why Tales of Patrice Evra's Decline Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Why Tales of Patrice Evra's Decline Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Patrice Evra joined Manchester United in January 2006

Last summer, Manchester United fans reacted with genuine excitement at the news the club might be about to bid for Everton’s England international left-back, Leighton Baines.

This summer, United—now under the stewardship of David Moyes—have once again expressed their interest in Baines. According to The Daily Mail, the club lodged a bid of £12 million, which was rejected.

But this time, while Baines would be a welcome addition to the squad, United fans are more sanguine about his potential arrival at Old Trafford. 

What has changed in the intervening 12 months?

The real Patrice Evra has returned.

Last season, the incumbent in the United left-back spot cast off his recent malaise and rediscovered his best form.

Since signing from Monaco in January 2006, the Frenchman had evolved into one of United’s finest ever left-backs.

If you were assembling an all-time United XI, Roger Byrne and Denis Irwin would make strong cases, but few could argue with selecting Evra in the left-back position.

For his first four-and-a-half seasons at United, Evra was a revelation. Blessed with genuine pace, he would rampage down the left flank and provide a constant supply of crosses and cut-backs for Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

At the back, that pace—aligned with a fine positional sense—meant he was rarely beaten by opposing attackers.

But during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, his form went in to a significant slump.

Those forward runs were not so incisive, his crosses were often misplaced and attackers at the back were now getting more joy when they came up against him.

Was Evra a spent force?

By last summer, Sir Alex Ferguson had clearly decided he could no longer tolerate Evra’s erratic form. As reported in The Daily Mail, he considered a bid for Baines.

Just like this summer, Everton would not do business, so Ferguson invested in some competition for Evra at left-back with the signing of Alexander Buttner from Vitesse.

Buttner has actually underwhelmed when he has deputised for Evra, but his mere presence at the club played some role in triggering a revival in Evra’s form.

Even Evra himself has acknowledged the competition helped last season, as was quoted in The Independent:

I remember when Alex arrived and he scored against Wigan and people started to say, "Pat might lose his place." I have been challenged by Heinze, Silvestre....sometimes you need that. On a selfish point I am happy with that challenge, because I know I will have to fight every time to get my place on the team.

Throughout last season, reports of Evra’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Still only 31 last season, Evra played with a new focus and purpose.

He looked quicker along the left side of the field, his runs were well-timed and his crosses were reaching their targets, which helped him amass five assists.

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Evra’s new confidence also saw him get among the goals himself last season and score four, more than he had managed in his first six-and-a-half seasons.

"I love it when people start to doubt me and think, 'Maybe Patrice might lose his place,' because it makes me think, 'Okay, we will see,’” said Evra in The Independent last season. 

We did see, and Evra has proved he is back to his best.

If Baines does arrive this summer after all, Evra is up for the fight and won’t be so easily shifted from the left side of defence.

 

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