The Busby Babe continues with the seventeenth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is winger Ashley Young.
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
Young had a strong start to his Old Trafford career, particularly when he scored twice and assisted thrice in the famous 8-2 defeat of Arsenal early in the 2011-12 campaign. As the season wore on, though, his influence on the left flank increasingly waned due to various knocks and inconsistent form. Overall, his debut season was a decent one but it did leave a little to be desired - the standard for a United winger is obviously high. A reasonable hope for Young was that he could show marginal improvement and at the very least, he was expected to provide production that was on par with last season's.
What we got
Overall, it was a disappointing season for the former Aston Villa attacker. His regression was disheartening and this was perhaps compounded by the struggles of Antonio Valencia and Nani on the flanks.
* GS: games started (substitute appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = accurate crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, DRB = successful dribbles per game, FW = fouls won per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game
One should always use caution when examining football statistics. Nonetheless, a brief comparison of Young's Premier League statistics from this season to his last paints an obvious picture of regression: his goals went from 6 to 0, his assists from 7 to 3, his accurate crosses per game from 1.4 to 1.2, his successful dribbles per game from 0.8 to 0.5, and his tackles per game from 1.5 to 1.2. The quality and quantity of the England international's season was not what we had hoped for, nor expected.
Young did have his moments in some big games during the season's first-half, though, particularly at Chelsea and at Manchester City. United looked to play on the counterattack from the start of each of those matches and it was Young that was a key man on some of those breaks.
Here's Young's contribution on United's opening-goal at Stamford Bridge:
via Beautifully Red
Young again was a key contributor for another early-opening goal -- this time at the Etihad*:
* The chested-down ball by Robin van Persie was just ridiculous!
via Beautifully Red
By mid-December, it appeared that a counterattacking 4-4-1-1 would become Sir Alex Ferguson's big game system this season and that Young would be a big part of it on the left flank. As the season wore on though, the Englishman's influence waned -- just as it had last season, but to a greater extent this time around. In the season's second-half, the 1-2 defeat by City at Old Trafford in early April was the only 'big game' that Young was selected for. And because of injury, the winger was not seen on the pitch again after that night.
Of United's three 'natural' (and disappointing) wingers, it's Nani that only has a year remaining on his current contract, Valencia with two, and Young with three. The Portugal international is likely to depart Old Trafford this summer but the Ecuadorian and Englishman are anticipated to return. It's very possible that next season is a 'make-or-break' one for Young because if he doesn't come good, he could be sold with two years remaining on his contract. With that contract status, and with him being 28-years-old next summer, his value will never be higher again for United.
Young will never be the match-winning winger that Ryan Giggs could be in his prime or that Cristiano Ronaldo was from 2006-09. And that's okay. He can be, though, a functional winger that provides moments of brilliance here- and-there. Beyond that, all United need from him is much more consistency.
Even when it appears that the winger has gone missing at times, he often contributes more than some realize. He has a nice understanding with Patrice Evra on the left-side of the pitch and he generally tracks back well when United are out of possession. Young isn't a strong tackler by any means, but he positions himself well defensively by getting behind the ball when necessary. When United are patiently building attacks, the Englishman does well to find pockets of space between the opposition's right-back, central-midfielders, and center-backs. From here, he links well with his fellow attackers. This is generally his strength in attack and when he's able to whip in an in-swinging cross or fire a curling effort to the far-post, it's because clever and quick combination play freed him up rather than him taking on and beating a defender*.
*It's actually very surprising that Young -- with his good technical ability, quickness, and searing pace -- doesn't beat defenders one-on-one more than he does.
Young can still make it at United, the club just needs to see more of his early season form from 2011-12 and his big match type of performances that he displayed this season against Chelsea and City. He will rarely ever be a match-winner like Nani on his day, or an unplayable direct winger that takes on defenders like Valencia was in 2011-12, however, he can be a good squad player that can still be relied on to both score and create some goals. He needs to do this if he desires a Manchester United future beyond next season.