Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Patrice Evra

Clive Mason

Patrice Evra is clearly no longer the world-class left-back that he once was. However, this season was improvement for him in comparison to some of his most recent ones.

The Busby Babe continues with the third installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is left-back Patrice Evra.

* Manchester United 2012-13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

At one point during his United career, Evra was probably the best left-back in the world. That hasn't been the case, though, anytime in the past few years. Since about 2010 or so, the 32-year-old has been declining and he's arguably become a weak point in the defense. However, he still is an asset when he joins the attack and the club vice-captain is thought to be an influential member of the dressing room. No one expected him to return to his former world-class ways this season, but the hope was that he'd at least be better than he has been these past few years.

What we got

EVRA

GS (sub)

Avg P

PS %

KP

C

C%

DRB

TKL

INT

AD%

G

AST

Prem

34

41.8

87.1%

0.7

0.6

23.0%

0.8

2.4

1.5

62.2%

4

5

CL

5

46.0

90.4%

0.4

0.2

11.1%

0.8

1.4

1.4

73.3%

0

0

* GS: games started (substituted appearances), Avg P = average passes per game, PS% = passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = accurate crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, DRB = successful dribbles per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game, AD% = aerial duels won percentage, G = goals scored, AST = assists

If the realistic best case scenario for Evra was that he would be improved in comparison to the past few seasons, but not necessarily to a world-class level, then I suppose we should be relatively pleased because that's pretty much what he provided this campaign.

It's worth pondering if part of Evra's recent struggles has anything to do with possible fatigue. Here are the number of appearances he's made in the past six seasons for United: 47 (2007-08), 45 (2008-09), 51 (2009-10), 48 (2010-11), 47 (2011-12), 42 (2012-13). Keep in mind, as well, that he was involved in major international tournaments for France in the summers of 2008, 2010, and 2012. The left-back's durability is impressive and it's made him reliable. However, did a few more rests this season help the 32-year-old's overall form? It's probably difficult to decipher for sure one way or another if this was a factor or not.

Let's begin with some of the positives with the Frenchman: as previously mentioned, he's still a very good attacking full-back and he also suddenly became a threat this season to score in the box from set-piece deliveries. He's less direct than right-back Rafael (Rafael's season review) in that he tends to involve himself in more quick and short passing combinations. While he does tend to overlap his winger more than Rafael does*, he doesn't attempt as many crosses from near the touchline. Instead, Evra looks to participate in attacking combinations just outside the box or use his close-control and dribbling ability to penetrate into the box. From these positions, he often attempts relatively short-distanced crosses from just outside the box or he looks to create a chance from a cutback near goal. Furthermore, his decision-making in attack tends to be pretty solid.

* United's left-sided attacker -- whether that be someone like Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Ryan Giggs, or Nani -- doesn't tend to provide the same width that the right-winger does. Thus, there's more vacant space for Evra to move into on the left when he makes an overlapping run.

Despite being only about 5'9", Evra is decently strong in aerial duels. He's no Nemanja Vidic, of course, but he doesn't get exposed (that much) on crosses from the opposition targeting him at the far-post with a bigger attacker. In addition, he displayed a knack this season in slipping his own marker on United's attacking set-pieces when a deadball was delivered into the box.

Evra's biggest weakness is fairly obvious for anyone who has watched him play in recent years: he has the tendency of being caught out high up the pitch and as a result, United are vulnerable when the opposition quickly transition into attack. The left-back sometimes isn't in a reasonably recoverable position and this leaves those behind him -- a central-defender and sometimes a central-midfielder -- exposed in too much space. This is part of the difficult risk/reward game modern attacking full-backs are asked to play so there should be some forgiveness for this at times. However, the Frenchman used to not be such a defensive liability when he was genuinely a world-class left-back and he was just as potent in attack then. The 32-year-old has lost some of the blistering pace he once had and therefore, he doesn't have the physical ability to recover like he once could.

To Evra's credit, he was improved with his positioning this season -- perhaps it was a point of emphasis for him heading into this campaign. Last season, when teams were continually exposing United in the space in behind him, Rio Ferdinand, who is usually a right-sided central-defender, was moved to the left side because his covering abilities were deemed necessary on that side. To an extent, Evra has been more disciplined with his positioning and he's been a bit more selective when deciding to surge forward. This is particularly prudent when a playmaker like Kagawa is often drifting into central positions in attack when nominally deployed as the left-sided attacker.

One last thing to point out about Evra's defending is his vulnerability against wingers with pace and/or quickness. In recent seasons, he's let a few mediocre attackers get the best of him because he simply wasn't able to adequately close them down or he was beat by acceleration after the opponent had time to receive the ball and turn towards goal. Again, this is just another hint that Evra doesn't quite have the quickness nor the pace he once had and that he's only beginning to realize it.

What's next?

At 32-years-old, Evra is clearly past his prime so it's hard to say how much time he has left at United -- at least as the clear first-choice left-back. Perhaps his presence is invaluable at the moment and that importance could be magnified with the retirements of Sir Alex Ferguson as manager and Paul Scholes as a player. Ferdinand and Giggs may only have one more year left at the club as well. New manager David Moyes might value Evra's leadership and keep him on board for a few more years, or he could look to bring his former left-back from Everton -- Leighton Baines, currently the best left-back in the Premier League -- with him as he moves to Old Trafford.

As it stands now, and if United don't bring in another left-back in the summer to seriously challenge Evra for his current status as clear first-choice, he's likely to feature 40+ times again next season. If that's the case, the hope then would be that he limits the shaky moments and provides a season in similar quality to this one. He wasn't really good by any means, but at least he wasn't really bad either. Evra's reign as first-choice left-back will soon come to an end, it's just not certain when that moment might come. It could be in a few weeks, or it could be in a few years.

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