With Rio Ferdinand out for the early part of the season, Jonny Evans was counted on to partner Nemanja Vidic in the center of United’s defense. After the experienced he earned over the previous few seasons, you would think that the Northern Ireland international would be up to the task.
However, it’s been a severe struggle from the word go for the 22-year-old. It would be unfair (and untrue) to blame United’s early-season defensive issues solely on Evans, but when it comes to defensive mishaps this season, it is fair to say that his has been the name most mentioned.
It looked like the corner might be turning after he put in a good performance in United’s 1-0 win at Rangers last month, and after that showing, he faced up to the fact that he hasn’t been at his best. But after taking one step forward, he took three back almost immediately, as he had a disastrous night in last week’s 4-0 Carling Cup drubbing at the hands of West Ham.
After not evening earning a place on the bench for Tuesday’s Champions League stalemate against Valencia, there are now reports that Evans could be sent out on loan in January in order to rebuild his confidence.
The initial story is from the Sun, so it’s to be taken with a grain of salt, but should United be seriously considering such a move, even if it’s for say?
What happens during a busy stretch in a few weeks will be a telling sign as to where Evans is in Fergie’s plans for the time being. United will have four league matches in the span of only ten days: vs. Sunderland (Dec. 26), at Birmingham City (Dec. 28), at West Brom (Jan. 1), vs. Stoke City (Jan. 4). I highly, highly doubt Fergie will stick with the Ferdinand-Vidic pairing for all four of those matches, with the big picture in mind, so the opportunity would seem to be there for Evans to start at least once, right?
If a loan hasn’t already been decided by then, and we don’t see him in any of those matches, or in a sub role at best, then it would seem unlikely that he’ll still be at United when January ends.
As it stands, I’m 100% behind the idea of a loan.
For some players going through a rough run of form, it works better for them to have a sit for a week or two (decided with and explained by the manager) to clear their heads without having to worry about risking further damage to their confidence or potentially hurting the team’s performances and results.
But for others, and especially with someone who’s still young and developing as Evans is, it can be better to be able to play through it, to be in a situation where they can establish a rhythm, where one bad performance doesn’t mean that the next two weeks will be spent on the bench. For Evans, those regular starts aren’t possible at the moment, and the reserve team isn’t an option – or shouldn’t be, at least (if you want to really dash the boy’s confidence, drop him to the reserves). With that in mind, I think he would benefit from going somewhere he can get a regular run of starts under his belt, regain his confidence, and come back to United all the stronger for it.
The injury issues that United have had this season must be taken into consideration, but in the event either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic (or heaven forbid, both – knocking on wood as I type) go down, Fergie does have options to turn to in Smalling, Wes Brown, and of course, Mr. Jack-of-all-trades John O’Shea. Sure, there’s a dropoff there, as Ferdinand and Vidic are two of the best of the best in the business, but Smalling is already proving his worth in his first few months at United, Brown has more than 350 appearances to his name, and O’Shea can slot in anywhere at a moment’s notice.
So, Fergie should be able to send him out on loan without having to worry about how United will manage in his absence.
Preston North End could certainly use a little defensive assistance, as Darren Ferguson’s side is at the foot of the Championship table due in large part to a defense that has allowed 39 goals in only 21 matches. But as nice as dear old dad has been to Darren, this would be more an insult to Evans than a favor from father to son, considering the amount of Premier League experience and success Evans has had.
As for more serious options, there are several Premier League clubs who could use some defensive help. Don’t discount a third loan spell at Sunderland, as Steve Bruce’s back line is currently the walking (or limping, rather) wounded. Titus Bramble is out for an extended period after recently having surgery to repair damaged knee cartilage, Michael Turner is out for several weeks after a collision with a post resulted in knee ligament damage, and John Mensah is currently playing injured.
Sunderland might be the perfect destination, as he’s already very familiar with the club, and not only will he have some familiar faces in current United teammate Danny Welbeck and former United players Phil Bardsley, Fraizer Campbell, and Kieran Richardson, but he can also get a few words of wisdom from his manager, who knows a thing or two about what it’s like to play center back for Manchester United.
It’s certainly far too soon to give up on Evans, and that shouldn’t even be a thought. Every player, whether a youngster or a veteran, a star or a role player, goes through at least a few rough patches in their career, and that’s the case for Evans right now. He’s already shown what he’s made of and what he’s capable of, and he has a bright, bright future ahead. Will that future be at Manchester United? Only time will tell, because there’s no telling how long Ferdinand and Vidic will be around, but Evans does have time on his side.
It remains to be seen what Fergie chooses to do, but with the struggles that Evans is currently going through, all options must be considered, and it could be that a loan is just the prescription he needs to heal what’s ailing him.
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