With Chris Smalling impressing at every opportunity and his England u21 partner,the promising Phil Jones having recently joined for big money the pressure is very much on Jonny Evans.
Following a less than stellar season where poor performances and injuries wreaked havoc, the knives are well and truly out for the young Northern Ireland international, and a move away from Old Trafford is being touted in some papers with Wolves the club looking to add him to their ranks.
Prior to the signing of Phil Jones we were already quite health at center back as Chris Smalling proved a more than adequate replacement in the absence of Rio Ferdinand so will the signing of Jones push Evans out of the door? For £16m it likely that Jones will be utilised at every possible opportunity so someone is likely to miss out and looking at the club’s current landscape it is likely to be Jonny Evans.
One thing I have continually stressed in Jonny Evans defence is that a player doesn’t just become a poor player over night. We have seen enough of him to know that he is quality and is going through a dip rather than him having found his level after playing beyond his ability. The down turn in his fortunes means people have forget the performances he put in like at home to Chelsea in January 2009 and instead have had these memories replaced with performances like the 4-0 defeat to West Ham in the Carling Cup this past December.
Evans has struggled with more physical defenders this season and whilst he isn’t a tank, he is far from small himself so it leads you to believe some of the problem may be mental. The way he can over come this issue is through game time (and perhaps a bit more time spent in the gym) but will he get this at Old Trafford?
Playing in the reserves may do further damage to his mind state as no one wants to be ‘dropped’ and playing a bit part role with infrequent appearances in the FA Cup and Carling Cup will do him no good either.
If Wes Brown and John O’Shea are in fact on their way out of the club then it makes less sense to sell Evans as he can still provide cover at left back and center back but you get the impression having played a more prominent role previously he may not want to be demoted to cover for a position that isn’t even his strongest.
Because of his assured performances previously it is easy to forget he is still just 23, a baby in terms of being a center back and towards the end of the season he began to show he may just be getting over the dip in form that has lead to him being criticised.
I’d prefer to keep Evans, as I’ve said he showed he could more than mix with the big boys when called upon, most notably against Chelsea in January 2009, a game that was part of 14 consecutive clean sheets in that 08/09 season, a run of games in which he played his role perfectly.
Although Smalling has it now the position of cover for Rio/Vidic or “3rd choice center back” is by no means a closed case and next season offers the chance of a fresh start for Evans. You would assume that he will be in the gym this summer working on a strength programme and using the summer break to get his head right in order to make a real go of reclaiming this position.
This summer won’t see Jonny Evans departure from Old Trafford, but the coming season will give a great indication of what his future holds and if it is even going to be at Old Trafford. He has shown a maturity and mental strength previously so I would like to think he sees the challenge that stands before him and will rise to it.