Running the Rule Over the Defence
Kevin Levingston examines our defence and gives his views on which players may be on borrowed time….
The main narrative of our season so far has been a persistent struggle against injuries in the first team. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the Red’s back line. Putting aside all discussions about training process and the ability of our medical team to rehabilitate people capably; it is becoming clear that there are a number of players that Mr Van Gaal can no longer rely on to be consistently available. One thing is certain; new defenders will arrive before long. Whether it’s in January or in the summer, the boss needs players he can rely upon for fitness and form. The clock is ticking for our defence. Below is a rundown of our current troops and how secure their futures are based on performances and fitness.
Rafael Da Silva
Undoubtedly a fan favourite. The right-back is in his seventh season at Old Trafford now and on his day looks every inch the player we all hoped he could become. A particularly impressive 2012-13 season saw him put paid to what remained of his critics and prove that he could indeed be a fixture for us on the right hand side. Impetuousness had made way for a far more measured and methodical approach, without having lost the boyish exuberance that complimented his game so well. He had arrived. An interrupted (by injury) and inconsistent 13-14 season followed, but he was no worse than anyone else had been under David Moyes.
Fitness – Injury has restricted Rafael to just 3 appearances this term. Seems to miss a considerable chunk of every season.
Form – Probably hasn’t quite featured enough to make up Van Gaal’s mind one way or the other about his ability.
Verdict: Lack of depth in this position means the Brazilian will be retained and judged at a later date, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see another right-back brought in for competition. A summer move for Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne seems a possibility.
A £29million arrival from Southampton in the summer. The youngster was a revelation for Southampton last season and the Reds were just one of a number of interested clubs. For such a hefty price there is a certain amount of pressure on the left-back but there is a confidence that Shaw can go on to make the left back position his own for the next ten years. He has shown his quality in fits and starts so far this year.
Fitness – Unfortunately set to be out until the New Year with injury. Initial doubts about his conditioning and application in training were put to bed in the autumn; Louis Van Gall calling him an “example” to the rest of the team. There doesn’t seem to be any long term fitness concerns, though he will be looking for a long run of games in the New Year.
Form – Understandably still settling in, the left-back has done enough for fans and pundits alike to get very excited about his future.
Verdict: Has a massive opportunity to become the first name on Van Gaal’s team sheet each week. His future seems secure.
Now in his fourth season at the club, the player once described as “better than Duncan Edwards” has not lived up to expectations. An impressive enough first eighteen months has made way for a more interrupted last two years. On his best day Jones is a powerful presence at the back but his overall game has not improved as one might have hoped it would. A habit of making fantastic last ditch tackles has often distracted from the Lancashire lad’s inability to read the game, whilst a tendency to throw himself about like he’s made of granite has exposed the fact that he’s actually made of glass. He has missed far too many games over the last few seasons. Quite often as a result of his own recklessness.
Fitness – Made his return from injury (again) against Liverpool. Spends just as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch.
Form – So-so.
Verdict: His potential means Van Gaal is unlikely to get rid of him just yet, but the boss will be far from convinced that he can rely on Jones’ form or performances going forward. Expect him to stick around, but expect his place in the first team to be taken by a new arrival. After that, who knows?
A product of the academy and our most experienced centre-back; dating back to the heady days of partnering Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in turn and not looking out of place. The lad from Norn Iron overcame a lot of adversity in his formative years at Old Trafford and there was even talk in some quarters of awarding him the captaincy at the start of the season. Our only defender with proper experience of playing consistently at the peak of the British and European game. You would hope he could be an example for the rest.
Fitness – Currently on his way back from injury. Good for at least one medium-term injury per season. Usually more.
Form – Awful. Looks a shadow of his former self this season and has made a number of key mistakes.
Verdict: He should be worried. He has a massive affiliation with the club and being a home grown player will count in his favour, but he has shown Van Gaal nothing in games to suggest he’s the man for our defence going forward. Needs a massive upturn in form and fitness or he’ll be off in the summer.
Once heralded as the new Rio Ferdinand; a subsequent three seasons of shanking the ball into team-mates midriff, shins or into the stands has put paid to that particular theory, however the former Maidstone stopper is probably the most natural defender in our squad. It’s a good thing too, as he has very little to offer in an offensive sense. He possesses extremely capable reading of the game and is a strong tackler.
Fitness – Currently injured. Again. Brittle.
Form – Mixed. THAT mistake against City is fresh in peoples minds but it was flanked by impressive showings against Chelsea, Arsenal and Hull. Injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Verdict: Chances are that only one of Smalling, Jones and Evans has a long term future at Old Trafford. Before succumbing to injury against Southampton, Smalling looked set to ensure that it would be him. Still, you feel that his Manchester United story is not yet over.
A new arrival at United after an impressive World Cup showing and versatile enough to play at left back or in the centre of defence; Marcus Rojo is still very much an unknown quantity. Has impressed at times and looked an uncertain prospect at others. He is a left footer and the boss is apparently a big fan.
Fitness – Disolcated his own shoulder in a tackle for his second injury of the season. He had previously missed time with a knee complaint. Pulled out of the Liverpool game the day before. Three months, three injuries. One would hope it’s the exception rather than the rule.
Form – Steady. No worse than any of his colleagues in defence, but needs a run of games. Looks competent, if not a little weak in the air. Very much still adjusting to the Premier League.
Verdict: Shouldn’t be worried. Van Gaal is a hard task master but Rojo should get more than his fair share of chances to prove himself. Should be the least worried of our centre-backs. The boss will look for Rojo to become a fixture in his defence.
Paddy McNair & Tyler Blackett
In many ways the success story of Van Gaal’s tenure, particularly in the case of Paddy McNair. The youngsters have come in and done a job due to the sheer weight of injuries in defence. For the most part, they have exceeded all expectations and should be commended for that. It is too soon, however, to make any judgements on their future. For now they remain exciting prospects.
You can follow Kevin on twitter at – @KevinLevingston
379 appearances, 10 goals, 40 assists and 54 yellow cards.
Bought by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2006 January transfer window, Patrice Evra took some time to adapt to the Premier League. Considered somewhat of a flop at the end of his first season, Evra and Vidic are the perfect examples that, sometimes, players need time to acclimatise themselves to new environments.
8 years on, and both players have left at the end of the same season as cult heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of the Manchester United fan base. However, there is a difference in the way both players left the club: Vidic’s decision to leave for Inter Milan midway through the season was seen by many as a player making a swift exit from a sinking ship; a decision the Serbian seemed to regret when saying goodbye to the fans. Manchester United’s ex-captain will always be regarded as one of the team’s greatest defenders, but there is something about Patrice Evra that makes his departure from the club that little bit harder to take.
First and foremost, he understood exactly what it meant to play for Manchester United. Many players have come and gone at this great football club without showing the professionalism or the passion that is expected from a player when he puts on that red shirt. Patrice Evra has.
“I got a load of DVDs, about the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. All the young players here need to understand the history of the club. I realised I needed to respect the shirt. I needed to respect the story. Every time I play that is in my head. What a privilege it is to play for Manchester United. When you pull on the shirt you are pulling on history, and I say thanks to God that I play for this club”
Every time he spoke about the club, he always did so with great respect. His constant references to the club’s history endeared him to the fans, as they saw how proud he was to be at Manchester United.
On the pitch, the past few years weren’t the kindest to Evra. His reluctance to track back and his loss of pace hindered the team, and many fans made sure to voice their opinion on the matter whenever they could. However, the bond Evra had created with the fans was such that, whenever he spoke off the pitch, much was forgiven.
Patrice Evra is a born winner, something Sir Alex Ferguson quickly picked up on, meaning it came as no surprise when the former Manchester United manager made him vice-captain. The past year has been a great example of this. During one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s recent history, Patrice Evra always voiced his support for the manager. He knew the fans were disappointed and so, in turn, this disappointed him even more. Evra became, to a certain extent, Manchester United’s spokesperson and said all the things the fans wanted to hear; something David Moyes seemed incapable of doing.
With his contract up at the end of the season, Patrice Evra could have done something similar to Nemanja Vidic and sign for a new team on a free in January. Instead, he waited until the end of the season and left after Manchester United triggered a clause in his contract, allowing the club to make money from his move.
The fact that Ferdinand, Vidic and now Evra have departed from Manchester United’s defence is a huge loss in terms of experience, but the new manager won’t be too bothered. As the Dutchman said in his first press conference, “I’m not always convinced by the experience of players”.
The fans will be forever grateful that Evra did not leave the sinking ship half way through the season, but stayed until the very end, ensuring that, when he left, his departure wouldn’t be missed. The signing of Luke Shaw certainly shows that Manchester United are thinking ahead rather than relying on the old guard for the coming season, and with Louis Van Gaal in charge, it’s almost as if Patrice Evra knows that the Manchester United ship has found its new navigator.
He can now leave knowing the club is in safe hands.
Sign Him Up! – A Case for Patrice Evra
With the departure of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic confirmed, Kevin Levingston argues why the club must hang on to Patrice Evra…
This summer Manchester United are experiencing a season of upheaval quite unlike anything they have faced in the premier league era. The season is barely over and already, with the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, United have lost more championship winning experience than many clubs have amassed in their history.
These are men that have embodied the club, season after season, and maintained a culture of professionalism, pride and success within the dressing room for all new arrivals and upcoming players to see. One word from Rio. One headfirst tackle from Vida. One look from Giggsy. Every action from these club greats drawing a line in the sand; “This is Manchester United…this is our club”. Like Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson before them they made sure that any aspiring player knew what it meant to wear that shirt on their back, to wear that badge on their chest. They demanded performances from their colleagues, more often through setting an example than anything else. If you were a Manchester United player you better crawl off that pitch at Old Trafford having used up every bit of talent you have. All for the cause. Yes, these players knew what it was to play for Manchester United.
Their departure (or retirement) leaves quite a gap in the dressing room. It’s certainly quite the hammer blow to lose them all at once. Sure, the United team has quite an amount of experience in the remaining playing staff – Wayne Rooney has been with us for ten years – but by his own conduct has done little to suggest he can be the example for the next great United team.
And then there’s Patrice Evra.
To put it simply; The club MUST keep hold of him, for countless reasons.
Admittedly the Frenchman is a long way from the imperious form of 2007-12 when he was one of, if not the best left backs in the league and in Europe, but he still has a huge amount to offer. Quite often this season he has been rightly criticized for being irresponsible in defence, no longer having the legs to get back from his many forays into the opposition half. Such is the role of the modern fullback, though it could be argued that Moyes particular emphasis on wing play did not help Evra in this regard. Nevertheless he is a solid option, and you would struggle to name five leftbacks better than him in the league. Definitely worthy of a squad position.
Having played at least 45 games in all but one of the last seven seasons, Evra has racked up a staggering amount of appearances in his time at United. Combine this mammoth run with being comfortably on the wrong side of thirty and it’s no surprise his legs are not what they used to be. With a new left back almost certain to come in, there’s no reason why Mr Evra can’t benefit from the same rotation as Giggs and Ferdinand experienced towards the end of their time with us. A better deputy you will not find anywhere.
It seems increasingly likely that Luke Shaw will arrive at Old Trafford this summer, and who better to learn from than our wily Frenchman? Evra has played at the very highest level against the best players in world football and could certainly teach our next leftback a thing or two! Having such a player as your guide would be of undoubted benefit when dealing with the pressures of playing for this club.
He Gets It
Perhaps as important as anything else on this list. More than anything, Patrice Evra knows what it means to be a Manchester United player. This quote from the man himself sums it up best;
“Ever since I joined this club has been like a big family. It’s the most important thing for me. It would be difficult for me to ever leave this club. I think maybe I’m possessed by this devil. I could not leave. I’m happy here. This is the biggest club in the world and it’s a privilege to play for the best club in the world” – Upon signing a new deal in 2011
It would be a mistake to let a player with such passion for the club go. For his ability, for his leadership, for his complete dedication to the cause, Patrice Evra should be allowed to finish his career at Manchester United.
He just gets it.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger and Shinji Kagawa enthusiast. He disappears quite a lot. When he’s around you can reach him on twitter @KevinLevingston
Phil Jones- Evoking the Memory of John O’Shea Since 2010
Ever since he signed for Manchester United in 2011 for £17 million, Phil Jones has been a formidable presence on the pitch- regardless of his position. He has played both across the back line and through midfield. When there has been a hole to fill, Phil Jones has filled it.
Jonny Evans is the Captain Man United Need Right Now!
When Nemanja Vidic announced his intention to leave Manchester for Internazionale in the summer people have began to speculate about the future destination of the prestigious captains armband at Manchester United. With Patrice Evra looking similarly likely to head off to a footballing retirement destination in the summer, it seems increasingly likely that there will be a new general to marshall the troops in the 2014-15 season. Many people have had their say on the subject and now I’m going to have mine.
Reds Reap Rio Rewards
As Manchester United celebrate their 20th league title following their 3-0 victory against Aston Villa on Monday, the importance of Rio Ferdinand to their success this season cannot be understated. Playing in almost three quarters of their Premier League fixtures, despite his long term back problems, the 34 year old Englishman has proven that he has plenty more left in the tank.
Do Manchester United really need a new centre-back?
Centre back, defensive centre midfielder, centre midfielder, attacking centre midfielder. Centre something. That seems to be the priority at Manchester United. A few weeks ago, we needed a centre midfielder; today, according to various reports, we are in need of a centre back.
Whilst both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have enjoyed a rather successful season, it is fair to assume that their time at the club is limited. Add to this the fact that Phil Jones seems to be in the process of being moulded as a defensive midfielder, used primarily to shadow and hassle key men in the opposition’s team, it is understandable that a certain doubt has been cast over the strength of Manchester United’s defensive core.
Once the two experienced centre backs decide to call it a day, Manchester United will be left with only two out and out possible starting central defenders: Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. If you are a regular visitor to this website, you will know that I am yet to be entirely convinced by Chris Smalling and believe that he will only ever be a squad player at Manchester United. Again, as I have also previously stated, I hope he proves me wrong and establishes himself as a great centre-back for the club, but until that day comes, I believe that yes, another centre-back will need to be purchased to replace the two departing veterans; perhaps not this summer, but most definitely the next if they want to remain Premier League favourites. At the moment, United are odds on favourites to reclaim their title with Ladbrokes at whopping 1/200.
The only question is who? Who out there is cheap enough not to break the bank, but good enough to directly fill the big boots of his predecessors? The answer is: there aren’t many.
Kurt Zouma (Saint-Etienne)
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I am a huge fan of the imposing youngster. I (fairly) recently wrote an article on him for this website, which you can read here. As stated in said article, I do not believe Kurt Zouma to be entirely ready to make the jump to a starting position in the Premier League. On the other hand, if purchased early and perhaps sent out on loan to gain some experience at another British club for a season or so (coincidentally just around the time a new centre back will be needed), Kurt has the potential to establish himself as one of the great centre backs of his generation.
Nicolas N’Koulou (Olympique de Marseille)
As a defender, Nicolas N’Koulou nearly has it all. He has the pace, the strength, the concentration and the positioning. His only weakness (and even then, he’s not half bad) is his aerial ability. Extremely capable with the ball at his feet, Nicolas isn’t one to shy away from running out of defence and picking out a good pass to one of his teammates further up the pitch. With teams nowadays relying more and more on versatility and ball ability, Nicolas N’Koulou would be an asset to the majority of big teams around Europe and with a reported price tag of £8 million, it is understandable why many teams have already expressed their interest in a player who, were he not playing for a Ligue 1 club, would be valued at around £20 million.
Dedé (Vasco de Gama)
When it comes to the Brazilian league, my knowledge is fairly limited. I know of players, yet I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable describing their strengths and weaknesses as I only catch one or two games a term. I know Dedé to be a talented centre back but I would much rather let @CheGiaevara, someone who has seen a lot of the big Brazilian, describe him for this article:
“Dedé is a freak of nature. At six feet three inches, with the body of a supreme athlete and the ability to dominate his opponent, he strikes fear in the hearts of attacks everywhere. The general tradition of fullbacks attacking has moulded Dedé into covering the space they leave as well as covering his own. He outmuscles, outruns and often outsmarts his opponent, including one fellow by the name of Neymar. Dedé’s tempo and pace often covers up his lack of positional skills, which could become a problem in the Premier League (see David Luiz). However, he posses the power to move the ball out of the defense, in which he has earned the original nickname “Dedéckenbauer” by the Vasco da Gama faithful.”
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
As you can see, options are running a bit low, yet Hummels isn’t exactly an impossible target. Admittedly, he has recently signed a new contract until 2017 with Borussia Dortmund but Thiago Silva did so with AC Milan a few weeks before signing for Paris Saint-Germain. Manchester United were linked with the German defender around November last year and since then, Barcelona have been the latest club to be linked with the German rock. Still only aged 24 and with 24 caps under his belt for Germany already, Hummels has the ability to be one of the first names on any team sheet around the world. A price tag of over £30 million may be required to acquire his services but as Manchester United saw with Rio Ferdinand, great quality generally comes at a high price.
I recently read an old article on TalkSport, similar to this one, linking Manchester United with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini. Whilst I, along with a vast majority of Manchester United fans, would love to see players of their ability at the club, their price tag would be exorbitant. Even Hummels is more of a wish than a realistic target.
Are there any other defenders I may have missed whom you believe would be an adequate fit to replace Rio and Vidic, all the while consolidating our back line? If so, feel free to leave you suggestions in the comment box below.
Jonny Evans- The Finest Centre Half in the Premier League
Despite always being a prodigiously talented home-grown centre half, it is only recently that Jonny Evans has finally got the last few doubters off his back after a succession of simply world-class performances. A rock at the heart of Manchester United’s defence during this calendar year, Evans is now legitimately (during Vidic’s recovery from injury) United’s first choice defender.
Commonly labelled a liability in the past and unfairly blamed for United’s 6-1 humbling against City, the Northern Irishman is now showing a confidence and maturity that few suspected he was capable of. Alongside any of Vidic, Ferdinand, Smalling or Jones, Evans has shown himself to be a versatile defender equally capable of dealing with balls in front of him and, unlike John Terry and Nemanja Vidic, behind him. Like Kompany and Ferdinand, Evans is an intelligent defender who has great athleticism and reads play well as shown by the infrequency of fouls that he commits nowadays (even though there is an element of fortune in it- like all impressive stats).
Why did we Evra doubt him? Patrice is back.
Whisper it quietly, but under the radar of RvP-mania a resurgence has taken place. The real Patrice Evra is back.
Some would argue he never left us, certainly the decline of Evra has been exaggerated in line with his status of favourite whipping boy since Carrick and Evans played their way out of ignominy. Tactics seemed ill-suited to his ageing legs, leaving him exposed with little support from those stationed in front of him. Most United fans would still agree however that the displays of the French full back between 2010 and 2012 have been less consistent and increasingly erratic.
What a difference a couple of months make. The stand-in skipper will always have his critics, but undeniably his performances in recent weeks have been his best since 2009. An intimidating list of opponents blessed with pace (Walcott and Sterling) or craft (Ben Arfa, Mata) were expected to finish him off. Indeed those too quick to judge even ludicrously called for Buttner to keep the shirt on the back of a goal against Wigan. The reality was each opponent was either contained or forced to move elsewhere to inflict any damage. Much has rightly been made of the performances of Rafael yet his fellow full back has posted virtually identical stats for tackles and interceptions per game. In fact considering he is a full back, it is remarkable that six players have been dribbled past more often than a player facing a winger on a weekly basis.
Not only has Evra been defensively sound but despite a revolving door of players in front of him his link up play going forward has been excellent. He has been involved in much of United’s enterprise in attack, providing a constant wide option and even emerging as an unlikely aerial assassin with a brace of important headed goals. His successful dribbles per game rank behind only Valencia, Nani and Cleverley at the club demonstrating the incisive qualities he is bringing to our free scoring side. Not only that but you can rely on Evra to provide more key passes in a game than Carrick, Cleverley and even Paul Scholes.
If Patrice can continue to show the form that had the Qatar Foundation sponsored Barcelona and Bwin sponsored Real Madrid hovering a few seasons ago, the odds of United retaining the Premier League title will certainly increase. The presence of a genuinely world class left back instantly increases the chances of Manchester United taking the title back at the first time of asking and may even encourage a few punters to put some money on it happening.
Does this mean speculation over his successor can be put off for the foreseeable future? Perhaps not. Only time will tell if Evra is experiencing an Indian summer, or something more permanent. Age is the enemy of athletes reliant on pace and stamina. There is something special when a former champion recovers from being written off to scale the heights again (think Roger Federer or even Rocky Balboa!) If we are seeing the last courageous act from a superb club servant credit must be given to the indomitable Frenchman who never ducks a challenge.
For many reasons 2011/12 was the most difficult season of Patrice Evra’s career; how fantastic to see him back on top.
Can you believe it’s not Büttner?
People are drawn to characters. Whether they are outrageous, mysterious or commanding. If they exude a unique charisma, they catch people’s attention. Whether this popularity equates to footballing talent remains to be seen as Manchester United’s new Dutch left sided enigma finds his feet in the Premier League.
When news broke that Manchester United had signed Alexander Büttner, it trigged a universal scratch of the head. Even the wisest football mind threw in the towel over their lack of knowledge of this seemingly enthusiastic new acquisition. Once the protagonist himself started posting photos of his new training gear, at his new club, it seemed even more bizarre. To top that off; he looked like someone who shouldn’t even be playing football. It could be the haircut, it could be the thuggish grin he naturally puts on or it could be the tattoos.
In fact, his demeanour is best described by the man himself when talking about his performances in the Dutch domestic league;
“I played against the best wingers in the Eredivisie and none of them played me off the pitch. On the contrary, I owned them all.”
He’s cocky. He has to be as he was brought up in the suburban area of Doetinchem. Known to the residents as “The Camp” for its low form of living and its somewhat grimey society. Büttner talks of himself as being “a rat” when playing football with the older boys on the streets.
The attitude he carries stems from there- from those rough days when the older boys would tackle him a little harder than most kids, give him a harder pass than they’d give to one of their mates. To test him. To see what he’s made of. An examination to see if could survive amongst the older ones. A process many of us have had to undertake in our lives when growing up playing football. In this environment, cockiness is a shield and something the Dutchman has in abundance.
Aleksander Schau on Norwegian TV2 compared Büttner to a windup car after the announcement was made of Dutchman’s arrival at United. The essence of it being that he’d take off running down the wing and you’d see him just disappear, much like a windup car. Exaggerated in his offensive contribution, not too composed in his defensive work. Perhaps a way to back this claim was to note that for those of us who had never seen anything of Alexander Büttner were caught by surprise when his YouTube videos were labeled “Alexander Büttner: All goals and skills”. Not exactly what you’d expect from a leftback. It does belong to the story that after leaving Ajax for Vitesse he was moved back from an attacking winger to an attacking wingback. To the naked eye, and perhaps to those with a touch of experience with football, moving an established player to a new position usually means the coach has no idea how he wants to use the player. To Alexander Büttner, however, it was just another shantytown-challenge. And he’d overcome this one too. As he had all his life.
Upon signing with Manchester United one would say he seemed nervous. United fans were laughing at he they called “Tom Cleverley’s evil twin” for his rugged appearance. Therefore it was a bit anticlimactic to hear the man himself stutter over his words, not seeming assured and generally seemed nervous when interview by MUTV after signing. The aura about him was that he was a badass, wasn’t it? The video of his home community throwing a huge block party in honour of their prodigy son had further spiked the assessment that here arrived this tough, take-no-prisoners bully who’d hack down any defender that had the audacity of trying to pass him. This just couldn’t be right.
I was there when Alexander Büttner made his debut against Wigan. At first, I had to confess to myself that perhaps the interview had given away some of his true persona. Uncertain of himself, not understanding of how United played and generally nervous. He didn’t belong in that team. He even picked up a stupid yellow card in the first half and lost the ball in his own area, creating a huge chance for Wigan.
Then something happened.
As he came back on, it seemed like just another one of those days with the older boys having thrown “the rat” around. It was his turn to dish some back as he bombed up and down the wing, pumping in cross after cross. He was in his attacker’s face at all times, not giving away anything. This was his time. He assist to Chicharito would have crowned what seemed to a bad debut salvaged by a heroic second half performance. But this is Alexander Büttner we’re talking about. In a run that saw him beat four players, he muscled past the Wigan defence and hammered a ball through Ali Al-Habsi’s guard to seal his dream debut. The goal in itself was nowhere near pretty. But it was edgy, it was daring, it was ruthless, it was rugged.
In many ways, it showed character. A performance by someone adored just for who they are and how they have decided to leave a mark just for what they personify. It was Alexander Büttner. The rat from the streets of Doetinchem, the eccentric wingback at Vitesse, the unknown thug at Manchester United.