Jonny Evans has become troublesomely vital for Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United – Man United News And Transfer News

Jonny Evans has become troublesomely vital for Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United – Man United News And Transfer News

Jonny Evans has been one of the standout players of the season for Manchester United and in a summer where Rasmus Hojlund, Andre Onana and Mason Mount were all brought in for top dollar, it is the free signing of Evans who has a good shout to be credited as the signing of the season.

However, despite the amazing campaign the Northern Irishman is having and while watching the rebirth of his career should make any Red Devil smile, it is only possible due to the massive problems the rest of the team is having.

The Athletic have gone into detail of how Evans has become the team’s best penalty box defender but it was never supposed to be like this.

The Ulsterman has played 1,270 minutes this season and 43% of the team’s Premier League minutes. Quite incredible when you consider the player was brought in as originally a warm body for pre-season training and as a favour to a former player, as he was looking for a club after being released by relegated Leicester.

In fact, Evans even revealed earlier in the season that he had given serious thought to retirement, but is now a stalwart in United’s backline.

Of course, a plethora of injuries and the constant unavailability of Erik ten Hag’s go-to centre-back, Lisandro Martinez, is a huge reason behind Evans’ increase in game-time.

So much so, that only Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire have played more football at centre-back this year for the Red Devils.

The academy graduate has brought calmness and leadership to a backline that has suffered immensely without Martinez’s presence. Of course, Evans’ ball-playing skills and ability to be aggressive are sorely lacking in comparison to the popular Argentine.

Consequently, the style of play has had to change immensely, as no other centre-back at United can pass through the midfield lines and be as press-resistant as the World Cup winner. However, Evans has done what he does best, defend first and protect the penalty box.

Saturday’s 2-0 win against struggling Everton was a classic example of this. In a chaotic match where both teams struggled to keep the ball and looked much more at home on the counterattack, Evans’ quality of defending in the box in comparison to Everton’s, who gave away two stonewall penalties, was a huge factor behind the win, as they conceded a shocking 23 shots on goal against the relegation battlers.

The 104-capped Northern Ireland international made four clearances and four blocks and he was given a standing ovation by the appreciative Old Trafford crowd when he was subbed after 89 minutes.

Evans has also highly impressed of late, when he came on as a second-half substitute against Luton and made an incredible 11 clearances. Pundits such as Roy Keane and Dion Dublin both waxed lyrical on the player’s performance before being subbed off in the Manchester derby.

His manager and captain also had kind words to say about the three-time Premier League winner.

However, the penalty box defending that Evans excels at, even at the mature age of 36 years old, is part of the problem for Ten Hag.

As The Athletic put it, “this was not meant to happen”.

“Ten Hag ideally wanted United’s class of 2023-24 to be defined by their high pressing and aggressive counter-pressing. The squad for this season was built with the idea of defending as a collective unit of 11 players, winning the ball high up the field to maintain pressure in the opposition half. Balls that did manage to cross the halfway line were supposed to be mopped up by one of the club’s two World Cup-winning centre-backs, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez”.

However due to the spate of injuries, United have often “defended deep in and around their own box in a dogged manner that can be ugly to the eye. It often falls to Evans to handle the majority of his team’s defending. On Saturday, he responded well”.

Therefore, praise must be given to Evans for his rebirth and the commitment he has shown to stand up for his side when they need him most. The Ulsterman will be especially pleased as he probably feels he has done enough to earn an extension at Old Trafford but even if he isn’t offered one, will surely have plenty of offers from lower-level Premier League clubs, whose style will fit him like a glove.

However, if United will ever truly progress into the type of team they want to be, the man who started off at Old Trafford at nine years old, sadly, cannot be the solution.

“United are grateful for Evans’ last-ditch defending because they remain porous in midfield and lacklustre when pressing up front. They have now conceded 467 shots in the Premier League this season, an average of 16.7 per game. Only second-bottom, three-win Sheffield United (501) have conceded more”.

These sorts of statistics are evidently not sustainable. The beginning of the spring will bring much tougher tests for United as they face Liverpool twice, Newcastle, Chelsea and Brighton to name a few sides, where one would imagine will not let them off the hook in quite the same way Everton did.

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