Only a couple of seasons ago, Patrice Evra was being lauded as one of the most consistent and talented left-backs in European football. His place in the Manchester United starting XI was solidified through a long period of excellent service; he was rapid, quick to snuff out danger, astute going forward and precise in the tackle.
His repeated inclusions in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League ‘Teams of the Year’ were justified and his showings on the greatest stage for his club were nothing short of superb. His performances and fitness warranted an ever-presence in the first team to the extent that Ferguson sought little need to find a back-up.
And that’s where the root of the problem lies.
Post World Cup, Evra’s form has been on a steady decline and it hasn’t helped that he has no one offering a practical challenge to his position. Fabio never really imposed himself on the left-back berth and has such been loaned out to Premier League strugglers QPR. Evra has almost been ‘allowed’ to continue as first-choice full-back simply because of two reasons: his exceptional reputation precedes him, but even more dangerously, United simply don’t have another player good enough to oust him.
His performances and fitness warranted an ever-presence in the first team
Step forward Alexander Buttner. The Dutch full-back, complete with bleached-white Mohawk and dual sleeve tattoos, looks like he’s wandered straight out of a neo-Nazi Oi! band; a stark contrast to the sleek stylishness upheld by Evra. In ways their playing styles couldn’t be more different either: Evra’s pace and agility lends him an air of grace on the football field, while Buttner’s aggressive and ‘never-say-die’ attitude is more robust.
Buttner announced himself to the Old Trafford faithful with a dependable showing in the 4-0 drubbing of Wigan Athletic in which he scored a remarkable solo goal that was as much skill as sheer determination to force the ball in the back of the net. With Evra turning out yet another less than convincing performance against rivals Liverpool, could Buttner be in line for a run in the team?
Evra’s decision-making has been questionable to say the least, his concentration lacking, his positional awareness poor and the lack of a first touch which now dogs a previously-assured footballer is astounding. In contrast, Buttner looked sharp. He was a little over-enthusiastic at times, and will take some tempering by the United coaching staff to turn him into a real quality product.
In a way he’s reminiscent of United’s previous first-choice left-back before Evra, the pitbull-like Gabriel Heinze. Both are squat, tenacious defenders who favour brawn and mental toughness over technique and mobility. If Buttner turns out to be half the player ‘El Gringo’ turned out to be then United fans can expect to see a genuine challenge on Evra’s position in the side.
The Dutch full-back, complete with bleached-white Mohawk and dual sleeve tattoos, looks like he’s wandered straight out of a neo-Nazi Oi! band
A duel between the two would not be anything but beneficial to the squad as United’s performances at the start of the new season have seemed a little lacking in motivation.
If Evra strives to improve his game in an attempt to retain his place then it can only be an improvement; and if Buttner impresses Ferguson enough to warrant a starting position then we could see an element of assurance returning to the Red Devils’ back four that has been missing of late.
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