Let’s face it, when we first thought about strengthening our midfield this summer, our attention immediately turned to the likes of Luka Modric and Wesley Sneijder; not Ashley Young.
Nonetheless, Sir Alex has placed £18m of trust in the England international who is undoubtedly a promising young player, and is blessed with lots of talent. However, is he the type of player/character that can really stamp his authority on a big match and will his arrival affect Luis Nani adversely?
He is often compared to his Portuguese compatriot, Cristiano Ronaldo, but in his absence, the pacy winger has become a more traditional wide-man than his predecessor ever was. Tormenting defenders with his trickery and explosive speed, he has the ability to create and score spectacular goals.
Despite maturing a lot in recent seasons, the Portuguese winger can still be guilty of neglecting his defensive duties at times and needs to learn that sometimes a simple pass is more effective than a long range shot at goal.
Armed with pace, dribbling ability and a superb cross on either foot, Young is one of the most talented wingers in the Premier League.
In addition to this, he excels in one-on-one situations against defenders and has an excellent footballing mind. A regular threat from set pieces, the ex-Villa hit man could really fill the void in this area.
Although a very complete footballer, Young’s most obvious weaknesses are his aerial ability and strength but he does not rely on either of these qualities to play well, instead his biggest weakness may well be attitude at times.
Barclays Premier League Statistics
The statistics below show that both midfielders have had great seasons in the EPL. In terms of scoring, both Young and Nani had fairly even seasons with Nani getting 2 more goals than Young, who did take some penalties during the season but was also playing in a far inferior team.
Although Nani’s increased pass success ratio is noticeable higher than Young’s, the difference may well be attributed to the teams more than the players. Whereas United enjoy long spells of possession high up the field, where they both operate, Young is more likely to be hurried considering Aston Villa’s poor ball retention up-field last season.
Shots on Target
% On Target
Assist wise, Nani was unsurpassed in the Premier League last season, with an impressive 14 but Young managed to knock up a respectable 10 himself. More impressively, Young has averaged 7.5 assists from dead-ball situations over the last 4 years, which compares favourably to David Beckham’s 4.77 during his time at Manchester United (courtesy of @OSullivanMUFC).
Neither being too shy when it comes to shooting towards goal, Nani recorded over 100 shots last season (scoring with less than 9% of his efforts) against Young’s ‘measly’ 71 (who converted virtually 10% of his efforts).
Whereas Nani put 38% of his shots on target last season, Ashley Young managed to put 49% of his shots on target- explaining his increased efficiency and showing just how deadly he is on route to goal (although, of course, he is less prone than Nani to let loose from 35 yards).
The Central Winger v The Traditional Winger
Using the term coined by @Zonal_Marking, Ashley Young could easily be considered to be a Central Winger.
What this means is that instead of playing initially as a central midfielder, trying to find space, the player drifts out wide on both wings to pick up the ball and operate across the pitch- therefore acting as a central play-maker, behind the strikers, and an auxiliary winger; as @Zonal_Marking quite rightly pointed out.
Using the chalkboards from 2 of Young’s best games of the season you could see that Gerard Houlier used Young more centrally and gave him a license to roam freely.
The majority of his passes were made from within the central region of the pitch before beginning to spread out as he moved further up field, creating space and key passes as he saw fit.
Also, if you observe the triangle, it was evident that Young played deep at times. A year ago, when Ashley played the central winger role, it was apparent that he lacked experience but it seems he has now come of age.
Obviously, the question is how will Sir Alex use him, if it is as a; second striker, squad player or the first choice left winger but, regardless of where he is playing, I am sure he will put in a great shift.
Nani, on the other hand, is a more traditional winger who prefers to run directly at defenders out wide.
From the chalkboards above, in two of Nani’s better games, you can see that he can be effective on both the left and right flank. However, on the right, you can see that he is more able to stay on the wing where he does his best work.
While playing on the left, he generally drops slightly deeper and is more reluctant to run towards the line, with him more inclined to cut into the middle.
Possibly because of his increased efficiency on the right, Ferguson seems to prefer to use Nani on the right and it is no coincidence that his form deteriorated after Antonio Valencia came back into the side; meaning he was shifted back to the left.
From the chalkboards, what could be said is that Young is more versatile in the roles he plays in midfield, whereas Nani, a traditional winger, is less adaptable than his English counterpart. However, this simple fact does highlight how their inclusion in the side is not mutually exclusive!
I would like to make it clear to all those non-believers that, yes- the acquisition of Young can work to our benefit, without adversely effecting Nani’s performances next season.
Young is an excellent player with a proven Premier League track record but, nonetheless, the Theatre of Dreams represents a different challenge from Villa Park; one where players are expected to dominate rather than decorate, where players are not allowed to lose concentration, where failure isn’t an option.
Regardless of these difficulties, I am sure they are something Young will get over as he undoubtedly grows and matures under the expert tutelage of Sir Alex and his coaches.
As for Nani, he is no longer the “school boy show-off” but a player with immense creativity and substance. He has been talismanic during the season for the Reds and is pivotal to our continued success.
Personally, I think the two of them have what it takes to guide United to a record breaking 20th title and maybe, just maybe, our 4th Champions league title!
About Kiran White
A proud Trinidadian, Kiran has been in love with Manchester United ever since Dwight Yorke started banging in the goals all those years ago. Citing the 2 1 win, at the Nou Camp (Can They Score, Man United Always Score), as his favourite United moment, Kiran watches every match religiously but focuses on his academics away from the TV screen.