After a run of six wins in the lead up to Christmas, Manchester United fans were licking their lips and talks of a title race were becoming increasingly commonplace. We had risen to the dizzying heights of 3rd in the table, a position we had not reached since the first game of the best forgotten 2013/14 campaign. Our four attacking players – Rooney, Mata, van Persie and Falcao – had started to gel and free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing football seemed to have returned to Old Trafford once again. The bulk of this was done in the absence of Shaw, Blind, Herrera and Di Maria, well over £120m worth of players.
Fast forward four league games and United have won just one match and taken 6 points from a possible 12. The performances, aside from the Newcastle game, have left a considerable amount to be desired, and had it not been for two equalisers against Aston Villa and Stoke from the predatory and in-form Radamel Falcao, we would have dropped a position in the league table.
Now, there are a few explanations for this recent dip in form: our unending injury list and fatigue from the inexplicably busy festive period have obviously done Manchester United no favours. Despite this, many fans have chosen to point the finger at one of our very own: Jonny Evans.
Evans has reached the age in football when most players are expected to ‘peak’. He turned 27 today, and has been a Manchester United player for 10 years now. He had shown great promise early on in his career, earning the ‘Youth Player of the Year’ award at Sunderland during his 06/07 loan spell. The manager of the Black Cats at the time, Roy Keane, had desperately tried to secure his services permanently, but David Gill recalled him to United.
Upon his return, first team football eluded him due to the impenetrable central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Nevertheless, when he was given game time, he impressed, and many lauded him as the potential captain and leader of Manchester United in the years to come.
Following the unsurprising, yet devastating, loss of both Vidic and Ferdinand in the summer of 2014, an enormous void was left in the centre of the back four. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, both of whom were proven international footballers, and the seemingly solid Jonny Evans were handed the reins. All three had the potential to become quality central defenders, which, coupled with their first-hand experience of one of the Premier League’s most prodigious defensive duos ever, left a lot of United fans feeling encouraged.
Half a season later, and Manchester United look more vulnerable and perilous at the back than ever. Whilst it’s true that United have conceded only one goal fewer than league leaders Chelsea, one must wonder whether this would be the case had David De Gea not pulled off some the most mesmerising goalkeeping performances seen in recent years.
Many view Jonny Evans as the main offender, and he has become the major scapegoat for United’s recently poorer form. He is widely regarded as one of the only players to regress under the management of Louis van Gaal, and his hapless attempt to deal with Mame Biram Diouf in the 1-1 match against Stoke could have been calamitous had Diouf not wildly curled his shot wide of De Gea’s goal. His ball distribution has been comically poor thus far – as evidenced by his dismal performance against Yeovil in the 3rd round FA Cup tie. Not only that, his two misplaced backpasses against MK Dons and Liverpool have drawn understandably vitriolic reactions from the United faithful.
Now, Evans finds himself in a position strikingly similar to the one Tom Cleverley was in last season. United fans scrutinise his performances with an intensity that neither of his defensive partners in van Gaal’s current 3-5-2 formation experience. Even the slightest of blunders draws tirades of abuse, and any positive passages of play are ignored. Mistakes from other players are largely overlooked, whilst he is maligned for his.
The general disdain for Evans is highlighted perfectly by the replies to one of Manchester United’s tweets after the Stoke game, which featured a quote from Evans lamenting the weather and playing conditions. The following are some of the replies.
‘F**k off you s**t c**t. Leave the Club’
‘he needs to leave!’
‘Tell Jonny Evans I don’t wanna se (sic) him in a United shirt again this season. Mug.’
‘”The weather made it tough”‘ This is a Manchester United CB. You’d never hear Stam, Vidic, Ferdinand or Bruce talking about Wind’
These are but a few examples from hundreds, the overwhelming majority of which were greeted with uproarious agreement.
With the January transfer having descended upon us, and the likes of Varane, Hummels, Godin and Vlaar being heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford, one must ask – will Jonny Evans make like Ashley Young and recapture his finest form under van Gaal, or will he suffer the same fate as Cleverley and be sent to ply his trade elsewhere? Whichever one happens, it would appear to be a win-win situation for United fans.