There’s no arguing that Ashely Young’s 2012/13 season was a big disappointment. After the promise shown in his first season at the club, in which he scored eight and set up 12 goals in all competitions, his regression to zero goals and five assists was as surprising as it was disappointing for Young.
After spending the best part of £17m to get him from Aston Villa, new United manager David Moyes won’t be of a mindset to just give up on his obvious talents. Last season Young, Valencia and Nani’s performances in the wide positions were among the few weaknesses in United’s procession to the Premier League victory, and the fact that all three suffered in form at the same time heightened the pressure on them.
They couldn’t hide whilst another was successful. But as United face fresh challenges from Chelsea and Man City this season, they need Young to return to his fleet-footed best in the coming season to give them two-footed width and accurate crossing that Van Persie can thrive on.
Ashley Young is one of the best crossers of the ball in England, and is almost equally capable of using both feet to do so. His speciality though, is dropping his shoulder to change direction before gliding in to areas in and around the penalty box and picking out a specific target. His career record of 65 assists in 221 Premier League games, even withstanding his quiet season last time out shows that he can provide the kind of supply line that strikers need.
Much of this record was notched up at Watford and Aston Villa where he never had a striker in the class of Van Persie to provide for. For sake of comparison, Gareth Bale has 31 assists in 146 Premier League games. So it’s fair to say that Young has shown himself to be one of the truly elite goal makers in the Premier League over the last seven years.
His first season at United showed this, as he collected 12 assists in all competitions. A number of these came from his ability to win penalties and his ability to play precise cut-back passes from the byline. It’s a hard skill which is by no means universally mastered and could be particularly useful for United this season with Shinji Kagawa expected to play in an advanced midfield role for David Moyes.
Kagawa’s late arrivals in to the box could make for the ideal target for Young. This is not even to mention the variety of movement that Robin van Persie brings, and these runs need to be picked out. Young has that ability to pick up runs made by strikers in to the six-yard box.
But the issue for Young is that last season he didn’t get enough of a long run in the team without getting injured. He endured three separate injury periods, each time having a little run in the team. But just as he was finding his feet and confidence he was beset by another injury. In some ways, he has been lucky not to have suffered more injuries in his career given his slight frame and that perhaps caught up with him.
Young is currently building up his fitness rather than touring with the first team squad. It’s not an ideal situation to be out of sight, out of mind so early in David Moyes’ reign but the new manager will need him to get back to his best. In order to keep the width and pace in attack that is expected at United, Moyes will need to get his wingers playing as they are capable of.
Theoretically, Young should be the player that best suits Moyes. Although he doesn’t have the deadlock-breaking talent that Nani has, he is infinitely more consistent and defensively responsible. His versatility, able to play on both wings with equal impact, puts him ahead of Valencia who is pretty much a right winger only.
A key to seeing how David Moyes can get the best from Ashley Young is to look at how he used Steven Pienaar at Everton. The South African had a difficult spell at Spurs and had originally come to Everton with injury problems. However, Moyes trusted the talent that Pienaar had, believed in him and played him every week.
The best way for Young to build up fitness is to start games and get 90 minutes every week. Despite looking fragile, when he has played week in week out in his career, he’s been at his best. He is a rhythm and confidence player, so if Moyes trusts him there is every reason to believe he can find his form.
Young has the pace, directness and crossing ability which is a combination pretty much of his own in the United squad. Moyes will admire his work rate but more importantly, his ability to pick the right crossing option and then to execute it properly. He needs games and confidence and if United give him that they will have the winger they thought they had after his excellent first season.
David Moyes is an ideal manager to get him back to that level as he has thrived under disciplinarians who don’t rotate him out of the team in the shape of Boothroyd and O’Neill and Moyes has a similar approach. He can yet become a star at Old Trafford.