The mind-numbing predictability of United’s play is lacking in any kind of imagination – and Young is the main culprit.
Of all the players at United being labelled as mediocre this season, there is one player who truly embodies the dreadful standards in the side. Ashley Young was already becoming an embarrassment to the club under Sir Alex Ferguson, when his diving became such a familiar pattern that the manager admitted to dropping the midfielder due to his penchant for playacting.
This season there has been less discussion about Young’s diving, mainly because there’s a slightly bigger issue at hand with the club at the moment, but partly because he’s found himself in the penalty area a lot less. Why? Because of Moyes’s crossing tactics, which see Young planted in wide areas.
Young, whilst in possession of a decent shot on occasion, is so one-dimensional it’s frightening. If he’s on the right in possession, he stares at the ball, makes a jinking move to the right to create some space, and witlessly fires in a cross that more often than not fails to reach a teammate. There is no awareness of what is around him, because United’s negativity means the concept of looking up, passing short, making space, passing short and looking for an aggressive final ball does not exist.
This video is a classic example, mocked up by disgruntled United fans. Though mainly focused on the serial wastage of Shinji Kagawa, it has some great clips of Young doing what he does best. (Not diving, the other thing).
If he’s on the left, he stares at the ball, taps it forward a couple of times, cuts inside to right, occasionally looks up, and then, well, witlessly fires in a cross that more often than not fails to reach a teammate. It’s remarkable that he’s ever allowed to get in the cross from the left, as all a defender has to do is show him on to his weak foot and the job’s done.
In doing so, he is the embodiment of the lack of ambition and forward-drive that has infected United’s play under David Moyes. What makes it worse is that United are now actually playing a game which specifically caters to Young’s do-a-trick, stick-it-in-the-mixer style of play. It’s almost as if Moyes is using Young’s game as a focal point for United’s direction.
If the club trusts Moyes with £200 million to rebuild the squad, don’t count on Ashley Young being among those shown the door. Juan Mata is playing poorly because Moyes doesn’t know how to use him, but Ashley Young is playing exactly how the manager likes, for the moment at least. Unless Moyes has a eureka moment and decides the crossing game isn’t for him after all, he could be sticking around.