The difficult second album followed by the ‘concept’ album, every band/singer seems to go through this process. Promoted clubs tend to suffer from ‘second season’ syndrome, notable examples are Hull, Sunderland and West Brom.
So it is that players seem to have the same problems when establishing themselves in a squad. One player who has just been through his difficult ‘second season’ is Jonny Evans. Whilst not officially his second season, it has been the inevitable ‘dip’ that players have once they burst onto the scene.
As the club looks to invest in youth and create the next generation of team what can we expect from Jonny Evans?
After arriving into the squad and looking composed and reliable its been a difficult last 18 months for Evans. The arrival of Chris Smalling and the emergence of the Da Silva twins has coincided with a loss of form that seemed to hamper his confidence.
Sections of the fans getting on the back of Evans as he struggled at times meant its been a difficult period of development for the young Irishman. Faced with the dominant pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic in front of him, coupled with O’Shea, Brown and Smalling competing for a place he found chances hard to come by. The best way for a player to find form and confidence is through playing regularly, this is something that evaded Evans for long periods last season.
When Evans was given a chance he tended to look rusty and his decision making in the centre of defence appeared to be rushed, leading to poor passes and losing the ball. With Smalling appearing to settle into the back four with remarkable ease in place of the injured Ferdinand and then Rafael at full back it was Evans who missed out on the playing time. A couple of minor knocks also hindered his opportunities to play his way back into form.
As we approached the end of the season Evans got his chance and started to show the abilities that had gone missing from his play. Operating at left back in place of Patrice Evra he offered a composed and calm style of play, that whilst lacking in genuine threat going forward, was more than solid enough at the back.
The sales of John O’Shea and Wes Brown suggested that Evans would now step up into a new role in the squad. Inheriting the number 6 shirt suggests that Evans has a bigger role to play this season but what sort of role will that be?
With the sale of O’Shea to Sunderland the only genuine back up to Evra at full back would appear to be Fabio and Evans. The ability of Fabio to operate on both sides of the back four as well as potentially in midfield (as shown in last seasons FA Cup tie with Arsenal) suggests that long term Evans is viewed as the 2nd option at left back. Evra has struggled for form and succumbed to injury in the last 12 months so the ability of a sturdy and dependable understudy in Evans makes perfect sense.
As the first weekend of the new season has shown us with injuries to Evra, Rafael, Vidic and Ferdinand. The ability to step up and be flexible in the shape and positions players play in will be vital this season. Its likely that come the Tottenham game on Monday night we could be looking at a back four of Rb-Fabio Cb-Smalling/Jones Lb-Evans.
The understanding of Jones and Smalling in the centre of the defence, as shown on England Under 21s duty in the summer makes for a logical link up in the middle. With only Fabio and Smalling having 12 months experience in the United first team however, it would require the experience and maturity of Evans to keep the defence organised and working as a unit. Its often forgotten that Evans has made just short of 30 appearences at International Level for a side in Northern Ireland who have at times punched above their weight.
That experience will be extremely important when Evans looks across the line and sees 3 players yet to fully break their full international sides.
Long term people have speculated that Jones could make a move forward into the midfield and its highly unlikely to see a player such as Evans make a left back spot his own, as his attributes do not fit with the style of full back United play with.
The first choice full backs if they continue to develop should be the Da Silvas but it would be likely that Jones, Smalling and Evans become the main three to battle it out in the centre. Short term its expected that due to Rios’ injury concerns and not wanting to burn Vidic out we will see all three players get playing time in the team. It was interesting to note though that against West Brom when Jones and Evans replaced Ferdinand and Vidic it was Evans placed in the centre alongside Jones.
This would suggest that Evans experience in the United team is viewed as important in helping players such as Jones adapt to playing in a bigger team. If you then include a goalkeeper in De Gea that is clearly still adjusting to the English league and likely to have concentration issues going forward, the knowledge and calm play of Evans becomes even more vital.
Its been a difficult 12 months for Evans, loss of form, injuries and the impressive performances of Smalling. A new season though brings new hope and the loss of veterans in Neville, O’Shea and Brown requires new players to step up.
If anyone has reason to be optimistic at redemption and a new lease of life in the United team it’s Jonny Evans.
A ‘concept’ album after the difficult second album usually makes or breaks a group, with Jonny Evans the ‘concept’ album could cement his place in the new United defensive dynasty.