Even at the lowest ebb of confidence in Manchester United in decades, Ashley Young is not the most popular player. Others stand out more for their impact on the game, their performances or even their social media presence. He, however, has quietly gone about his business almost unnoticed – and perhaps more pertinently, unchallenged – at right back. A physical frailty on the ball and frustrating habit of appealing every decision hasn’t endeared him to Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, the whippet-built veteran is deep in discussions over a new contract. His current ₤110,000-a-week deal expires next summer, but rather than slash the wage bill United want him to stay. In his favour is his versatility, experience and superior mobility to injured captain Antonio Valencia. General consensus suggests he is at best the least-stagnant of a rotten bunch of apples, but is this really the case?
Young began life as a winger, with serious pace and a habit of beating markers time and again. As a full back, he has slightly fewer opportunities to complete take-ons, of course. This gap is much less than it used to be given the role of modern fullbacks though. Take a look at his number from last season, when he made 30 appearances in the Premier League.
His average of almost exactly four crosses per appearance is fairly low at first glance. By comparison, this season he has already racked up half that number in just eight appearances. Despite the far higher volume of crosses attempted, a key part of his role, his cross accuracy has dropped alarmingly from 28% last season to just 19% this season.
The usual caveat of data sample size applies. The dip in cross accuracy when the volume has risen can also be attributed to his teammates’ performances. United have only played one striker in almost all games, with Romelu Lukaku struggling for any meaningful form.
When it comes to dribbles, he lags so far behind it becomes almost a moot point. Even when those players who have made fewer than three appearances, Young is 161st in total dribbles per 90 minutes. His average of 1.1 total attempts shows that on the ball, when considered alongside his crossing, his threat is diminishing alarmingly. During the World Cup for England, by contrast, he averaged three times as many successful dribbles.
His seniority in the side has lead to an improvement in general in his defensive discipline. Although 49 other players registered as fullbacks have attempted more than his 1.9 tackles per 90 minutes, his ratio of unsuccessful tackles is excellent. Antonio Valencia, however, has both attempted more tackles per 90 with 2.3, and has an even better success rate.
His physical presence has never been his strong point, but that isn’t the sticking point. One should make allowances for his differing styles to the Ecuadorian, who is a more static but steady type of defender. Valencia can achieve more efficient statistics by being less adventurous. His 1.9 interceptions per 90 minutes is respectable enough. Only Darryl Janmaat and Diego Rico have managed more of teams in the top eight.
Ashley Young’s powers have been waning for some time, and at best he remains a reasonably experienced squad member. To advance United as a team, however, he doesn’t offer any outstanding aspect of play. In order to justify a place ahead of club captain Antonio Valencia, he would need to post far more prominent statistics.
The fact the club are considering renewing his contract is a sign of either the lack of realistic options, or ability, the under-performing recruitment department have. At the age of 33 and with Diogo Dalot waiting in the wings, there seems little sense to extend his stay.