That’s a pretty common question on the lips of myself and most other Manchester United fans at the moment. When fit, Evra is one of the first names on the team sheet but regardless of that, there are still question marks over his form that has been lingering over him now for a year now.
We all remember Pat’s debut for the club, thrown in at the deep end by Sir Alex Ferguson in a risky move that ended up a nightmare for the new signing. Evra was hauled off at half time in a 3-1 defeat at local rivals Man City.
This was as harsh a welcome to the Premier League as he could have imagined, but one that as Evra has admitted, helped him a great deal. Since that disastrous 45 minutes at The City of Manchester stadium, Patrice Evra has gone onto become a mainstay in the United defence with over 250 appearances in the red shirt, winning many honours and also captaining the team on many occasions.
It was back in January 2006 when Sir Alex signed the French full back from Champions League runners-up Monaco for a paltry £5.5m but it wasn’t until the end of the year that he made the left back spot his own after competition from Gabriel Heinze and Mikael Silvestre.
But from then on he soon became a fans favourite, with his high energy performances, cheeky smile and his love of winding up opponents. For the next 2 seasons Evra’s form was outstanding and he was deservedly named in the Premiership, FIFPro and UEFA team of the year in the 08/09 season to add to his double winning achievements with United.
Along with Ashley Cole he was regarded as the best left back in the world, he could defend like a lion but also attacked like a top class left winger. He had everything that a great full back needed and more, he was incredibly quick, had great stamina, was a tough tackler and although he was small he also had a good leap and was physically very strong.
In the lead up to the 2010 World Cup, Evra was named the National team captain by manager Raymond Domenech and captained the side for the first time in a 2-1 win in a friendly against Costa Rica in May 2010. Sadly for Evra though, the World Cup turned out to be a disaster. France failed to qualify from their group after only picking up a single point in 3 matches.
There were serious problems in the French camp and after the 2-0 loss in their second group game to Mexico, striker Nicolas Anelka was dismissed from the squad after a half time bust up with Domenech. Many players in the squad were against the decision to dismiss Anelka and the following day they refused to train in a protest led by Evra.
The French Football Federation as well as some French government officials were outraged by the protest and ordered the French players to return to training the following day. As a result of the protest, Evra was stripped of the captaincy and benched for the final group game against South Africa.
On their return to France the team were heavily criticised by many French fans, ex players and the media. They were seen to have disgraced their country and with Evra being head of the protest, he was also made the lead scapegoat. Evra was one of five players who had to attend a hearing with The French Football Federation and as a result of his actions he was fined & given a 5 match ban from the international team.
It seems to be ever since he returned from that World Cup his form has plummeted. Whether his troubles for his country have influenced that or maybe it’s just a coincidence but whatever the reason, it’s quite worrying. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t suddenly turned into a terrible player but he is definitely not the Patrice Evra that we used to know.
He has probably been at fault for more goals conceded in the last 12 months than he was for his first 4 years! But the strange thing is that a lot of the errors he is making are not down to bad luck, but to just plain and simple basic defensive mistakes. The main fault in his game recently has been his positioning which has been awful.
One of the textbook rules for a full back is that they should have a good positional sense but Evra’s seems to have deserted him, he often gets dragged inside too easily allowing the opposition to attack the space he’s left or he gets caught ball watching too much.
He’s still bombarding forward which we all love but it seems when we lose possession these days he’s slower to make his way back to his position, and that’s not for a lack of pace its more down to him not actually wanting to put the effort in to get back quickly.
The list of right wingers that have had the better of Evra over the last 12 months is quite embarrassing, with the most recent to be ex-United flop Gabriel (Squidward) Obertan. Too many average players have shown our little Frenchman up recently and it can’t continue.
Perhaps his biggest problem is the lack of competition in United’s squad at the moment. The only other players we have to play at left back are Fabio and Zeki Fryers.
Until Fabio can prove to us all that he’s not made of glass and can complete 90 minutes consistently then Evra has to keep his place in the team. As for Fryers, it is far too early to be thinking of him as a first team regular. The signs look good though and the fact Zeki’s still only 19 and has already shown his class this season in the Carling Cup shows that the potential is there.
But even if we did look to buy a new left back, there really is a lack of top class left backs in the game at the moment. There are some decent left backs that would be realistically available such as:
Jose Angel (Roma)
Aly Cissokho (Lyon)
Domenico Criscito (Zenit)
Mauricio Isla (Udinese)
Alvaro Periera (Porto)
Erik Pieters (PSV)
Benoit Tremoulinas (Bordeaux)
However we should not be settling for ‘second best’ at United and there are left-back’s in particular who stand out, who make a great replacement for Eva. Let’s just have a look at them, shall we.
Here’s a young lad who has put himself into the spotlight recently with his top notch displays for both Valencia and World Champions Spain. 22 year old Alba started his career at Barca and it shows, he has a great touch and plays some lovely football for a full back.
He is also a competent left midfielder who has shown he can be just as good attacking as he is defending. The only real question marks are whether he could handle the physical nature of the English game and he could struggle with the amount of high balls played in the Premiership compared to La Liga, as at just 5’7 he is on the small side for a defender and hasn’t got a great leap like Evra has.
If we were to make a move for Alba then Valencia would most likely be asking between £16m+ for his services whilst we would also surely face stiff competition from a few other ‘big’ clubs from around Europe.
Marcel Schmelzer is a 22 year old German left back currently plying his trade for German champions Borussia Dortmund. Schmelzer is still relatively unknown around the world but if he keeps playing the way he has been then surely that will soon change.
He played every minute of every Bundesliga game last season which is some feat, especially considering every game was a big game for a Dortmund side challenging for their first league title in 9 years.
Schmelzer has also claimed his place in the German National team too, with some assured performances since his debut last year. He is very much a proper defender, he doesn’t get forward as much as most full backs do these days but the defensive side of his game is very strong. Definitely he is one to watch in my opinion.
Baines is a player that all Premiership fans are well aware of by now. He is one of the first names on the team sheet for Everton and is known for his crossing and set play deliveries just as he is for his defending.
Everton bought him from Wigan for 6m and that has proven to be a great piece of business by David Moyes as he has proven himself to be one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League in recent years.
At United we have wasted so many corners & free kicks in the past due to poor deliveries and with the amount of corners/free kicks we get each game, a player with a left foot like Baines would surely make them count more than we currently are.
Baines would definitely be available if Sir Alex wanted him, yes David Moyes would be very reluctant to let him go but as with Everton’s financial troubles the fact is he has his hands tied. I would think that Everton would be willing to do business if they were offered anywhere in the region of £14m. Baines is a top player for a mid-table team like Everton but the question is whether he is good enough for a top club like United.
By Joe Taylor @JoeyTmufc