A devout mainstay in the Manchester United side since his arrival – despite a disastrous debut, but we’ll ignore that for now – and a very popular member of the first team squad, Patrice Evra has been one of the most consistent performers of all during these last eight or nine years. With a particular eye for attacking and overlapping his winger on the left hand side, he aids many attacks and has assisted countless goals consequently. But in recent months and indeed the last couple of seasons, a greater and more critical eye has been cast on the extent of his defensive duties.
And with new manager David Moyes actively seeking a new left back over the summer, with failed bids for Everton’s Leighton Baines and Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, for the first time, it seems that his place is under serious threat from the outside.
So, what does Evra have going for him? Firstly, outstanding fitness levels. In the last six seasons, he has made more than 40 appearances in every single one, with his longest absence from the team being three weeks for a couple of minor muscle strains. He has an excellent engine that allows him to get up and down the left flank with ease and does not appear to have an issue with playing twice or even three times inside a week. United fans have often taken for granted his presence in the side and his ability to turn out strong, 7/10 performances in week in, week out.
In line with this, even for a 32-year-old, he has great pace: of course, it is an attribute that easily allowed him to take on the mantle of a left back rather than a left winger (as he was often played at Monaco) when he was much younger and because he keeps his body in this good condition, he has retained one of a full back’s most valuable assets. He is also naturally inclined to taking on a man on the inside or outside, and is more than adept at putting the ball in the box after a space-making trick or two.
Thirdly, he has the respect of the dressing room. A long-time vice-captain of the club, he has worn the armband and led United out on countless occasions and is recognised as one of the best men for the job by the backroom staff and senior hierarchy. He is one of the senior members of the squad and is regularly mentioned in interviews by younger players as someone to look up to and someone whose advice is often sought after.
The one missing thing from this list of course, as hinted at earlier, is real defensive nous. Evra is good in the air for a smaller man but he is often found wanting in other key defensive areas. Of course he does have better games and moments where his defensive work is more compact – but he is now increasingly found out of position, caught up the pitch or tucked in too much on the left hand side, allowing runners and space on the right for his opponents. He is often found wanting to commit to a tackle or put his foot in too early which allows a winger to skip round him and put a ball in to the box unopposed.
It seems this is the key problem for new manager Moyes. At Everton, he was used to Leighton Baines who is as solid defensively as he is offensively, and, whilst Evra offers as much as Baines going forward (even if he is not quite as gifted from dead ball opportunities), he remains in Baines’ shadow when defending. United are not blessed with an awful lot of talent at left back with the unconvincing Alex Buttner and the right-footed Fabio the only other options until January at the very least, so Moyes’ desire for another body in this position, I feel, is understandable.
Sadly, at 32, Evra is no spring chicken either and he probably has only another season or two left at the very highest level before his conditioning and recovery after and then for the next match will have to change. Both Baines and Coentrao in particular are both ‘new models’ of left back with more years in their legs and who are hungry to play lots of games and to win trophies. Of course, it is likely Evra has no lack of motivation either but it is undisputable that time is not really on his side as Moyes looks to build his legacy and make his own impact on the club over the forthcoming months.
On the face of it, it is not that Patrice Evra is being under-valued. Look at all he has achieved. Plus, he is still being played and utilised as the experienced and respected Manchester United player that he is known to be. Rather, David Moyes has an eye on the future and wants to keep refreshing his current squad as well as keeping Evra on his toes as he strives to maintain the very highest standards that are expected at Manchester United – both for the next game, and the seasons that will follow.