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Left-Back to the Future

Most Manchester United fans can agree that Patrice Evra has had some uneven performances this year. He has started almost all of Manchester United’s game at left-back, and with Nemanja Vidic out most of the year with injuries, Evra has worn the captain’s armband. But the time seems to be coming when Manchester United will need to contemplate who will play at left back in the years to come.

Patrice Evra

First, I don’t think that Patrice Evra’s time is done yet. While his defensive effort has been inconsistent this year, he has been as dangerous as ever when getting forward. He is still a very serious attacking threat on the left side, supporting the left winger while they cut inside. This has worked well this year, as the left winger this year has either been Nani, or Ashley Young. Both of those wingers aren’t quite traditional, as they like to take the ball and drift inside with it, rather than staying on the byline and pumping in crosses.

Now, while Evra’s attacking capabilities haven’t seemed to diminished, his defensive skills have been suspicious to say the least. He’s had a few games this year where he’s looked great, but for most of the games this year he has looked average or worse. Evra’s level of interceptions this year is less than half what he had at the same time in the 2009/2010 season. In addition, he has been dribbled past 22 times this year, compared with 29 times in the entire 2009/2010 season. This just seems confirm that he is being caught out of position, and he’s having problems keeping up with fast elusive wingers. The recent game against Chelsea showed this, as he struggled to deal with Daniel Sturridge for most of the day until Chelsea subbed him off.

Some have suggested that the reasons for Evra’s problem stems from some of his off-field problems, ranging from the problems with the French team at the 2010 World Cup to his recent racism row with Luis Suarez of Liverpool. But, I’m of the opinion that maybe his years are starting to catch up with him. He is still lethal going forward and he is still serviceable in defense, but the time has come to start planning for who will replace him.

Fabio da Silva

Right now, the most likely successor is Fabio. Fabio was acquired in 2008 with his twin brother Rafael from Fluminense. When they were first acquired, Fabio was widely accepted to be the more skilled of the twins. However, in the time after they joined Manchester United, both of the twins had to deal with several different injuries. From the injuries, Rafael made an impact on United’s first team before Fabio. But Fabio’s skills are not to be doubted, as shown by him starting out of position at right back in the Champion’s League Final at Wembley this past summer. While he started that game at right-back, it’s accepted that right-back is where Rafael will excel and left-back is where Fabio will make his mark

Fabio plays a very similar style to his brother. He plays as an aggressive, attacking full-back who is always willing to make a charging run forward. He is good with the ball at his feet, and can cause serious problems to opposing defenses with his forward runs. While he is good going forward, he has really improved his defensive game in the past year. Previously, he was known to make reckless tackles and give away unnecessary fouls. In his recent games, his defense has improved. He hasn’t made the rash tackles which were often his calling card. In addition, his positioning has gotten better. With his pace, and athleticism, it is very rare that he is run by. These attributes also help to ensure he is able to run up and down the wing all game. His contribution is just as strong at the end of the game as it is at the beginning.

The biggest problem that Fabio has is he has been extremely injury prone. Since arriving from Brazil, he has had problems getting a consistent run in before he is on the sideline with an injury. He has also had some problems with his defense, but his recent performances have shown his defense is much improved. If his defenses stay strong, and he is able to stay healthy for an extended length of time, Fabio could be the future left-back for Manchester United.

Ezekiel Fryers

Another option for Manchester United at right back is Ezekiel Fryers. He was part of the Academy team last year which one the FA Youth Cup. This year, he’s been the starting left-back for the Reserve squad and he’s made a couple of appearances for the senior squad. His first run out was in the Carling Cup against Leeds United. He’s also played in the Champion’s League, against Romanian side Otelul Galati, and he made his league debut as a sub against Wolverhampton in December.

Fryers plays a different style from Fabio, in that his defense is stronger than his attacking. He is a solid defender, and he seems to be more cautious in going forward. This may leave the squad slightly weaker in attack, but it makes the defense strong as it’s rare for somebody to get in behind him. He also still has problems with his positioning, but that should get better with experience. He is only 18 years old, so he is far from a finished product. He is still several years away from challenging for a first-team position. It is suspected that he will go out on loan for at least 1 year, if not 2. This will help him get game experience and hopefully he can improve the attacking side of his game.

The biggest problem with Fryers at the moment is his commitment to Manchester United. There have been several newspaper articles reporting that he is having trouble agreeing to a new contract with United, and that this could see him leaving the club in the summer. This is a problem that seems common with United lately, as Ravel Morrison was sold to West Ham United in January to avoid him leaving for less in the summer. In addition, Paul Pogba is another one who seems to be unwilling to sign a new deal. While Ezekiel Fryers is the not getting as much press as the other two, it has still come out that he wants a pay raise and that it’s unclear if he’ll be able to agree to a new deal.

Transfer Pickup

Or, is the future left-back for Manchester United not on the roster today? Over the past year, United has been linked with several fullbacks. There have been a long string of fullbacks linked with United, such as Crystal Palace’s young fullback Nathaniel Clyne, Valencia Jordi Alba, and Lyon Aly Cissokho. Nathaniel Clyne is known primarily as a right-back, but he has played a few times on the left and he’s out of contract in the summer. At 20 years old, he is the type of player that Manchester United has excelled at lately. Lyon’s Aly Cissokho is older, but he’s already made it known that he would be very open to a move to Old Trafford. He’s slightly older, so he’s more of a finished product then Clyne would be.

Now, this leaves us wondering who will play at left-back for United in the future. While Patrice Evra will be our starting left back for the rest of the season, and probably next season, it is still something that the club needs to ponder. Fabio has been impressive in games but his injury problems it has made some fans question if he’ll ever be our starting left-back. I’m hopeful that Fabio will be our left-back, but if he can’t keep healthy, then United will have to look elsewhere. So if Fabio isn’t the answer, then will Fryers still be with the club in a few years’ time?

If Fryers leaves the club, that will leave Sir Alex Ferguson having to go to the transfer market to find his left-back of the future. If Sir Alex Ferguson is looking for a new left-back through the transfer market, will it be a young player this summer that will then have a couple years out on loan to progress and advance for when Patrice Evra is finally done? Or will he wait a year or two, and buy a more finished product? The downside of this is that it will cost more money, but there is less risk involved.

While I’m hopeful that we will at least get another 2 years out of Patrice Evra, this is a position that Sir Alex Ferguson needs to put some attention to. If you want to see what happens when you don’t focus on finding a solid starter for a position, just look at what has happened with right-back over the past couple years. Time at right-back has been split between Rafael, Smalling, Jones, O’Shea, Fabio and Wes Brown. Manchester United needs to put some thought into the future at the left-back position, to avoid having the same problems that they’ve had on the other side of the field. It appears that the entire back line of United will be in transition over the next 2-3 years, and the left-back cannot afford to be ignored or there will be problems.

Joe_Hammer (@RangeRooney)