Ashley Young has truly stepped up for Manchester United, and is now clearly playing at the top of his game. He was the Red Devils' best outfield player against Crystal Palace, causing them problems every time he ran at his full-back, and it was his crosses that won the penalty and from which Marouane Fellaini scored the winner.
Though he was poor against West Brom and Everton, he certainly wasn't alone in this, and those performances were more down to poor team displays and defensive mistakes.
But the issue with Ashley Young, is that he clearly is currently playing at the top of his game, and though harsh to say, if United want to reach the heights of European football once again, and challenge for silverware on multiple fronts, his very best will never quite be good enough for first-team football.
Though against lesser opposition, he can have a big impact, as proven against Joel Ward this past weekend. He is quick, though his pace is not blistering, and he knows how to beat a man on occasion. He also has a decent delivery, and in the past has scored some wonderful goals from distance.
However, he rarely beats top quality defenders when in one-on-one situations, and so often his dribbling ability is frankly predictable and frustrating, as it was against Everton and West Brom. It is often clear where he wants to go, especially playing on the left wing as he clearly doesn't enjoy crossing with his left foot, and this allows full-backs and midfielders to quickly read him and channel him into less threatening areas.
Another issue with his dribbling is that, often, it slows down United's attacking play. Though this wasn't so against Palace a lot of the time, this is because of how poorly Ward played, and how unable he was to marshal Young onto his weaker foot.
Against Everton and West Brom, every time he got the ball on his wing, he slowed the play down, and rarely, if ever, beat his man and delivered well. It was a far too common sight to see him receive the ball, linger on in on his flank, and then end up playing it backwards or put in a poor cross. This slowing down of play (though many other United players were also guilty) was a major flaw in these games, and top quality wingers should be able to immediately after the play has been switched, attack their full-back, beat them and deliver, rather than linger and allow the opposition to settle back into their shape defensively.
This may seem an overly critical assessment, in games where various other United players were far from good enough, and before these performances he played well in the six game winning streak which essentially assured the club of European football.
I have no doubt that he has looked rejuvenated under Louis van Gaal, who at the start of the season told him the he was a senior player, and needed to start playing like it. He's played like a man who has mentally stepped up this year, and is taking more responsibility in the squad.
My critical assessment of his performances is not a justification to sell him either this summer. His upturn in form this year, compared to his woeful last season, has secured his place at Manchester United for the foreseeable future, and this is deserved. I have no doubt he will prove a very useful squad player for the coming seasons.
But he is 29 now, and reaching the twilight of his best years as a footballer. He is not technically gifted enough to sustain his game as he gets older and his pace depletes, and as United are planning to spend big this summer, I have doubts that he will be able to hold onto his permanent place in the starting 11, particularly for big games.
Depay to replace him
Memphis Depay, if he performs, should take over his berth on the left wing next season, and though perhaps this is harsh, it will be necessary. Ashley Young, despite more than a few assists and the occasional goal, is not enough of a threat, particularly against top quality opposition, to be a starting playing for a side challenging for silverware.
Though he will no doubt play an important squad role next year, with the increased fixture load that comes from European football, I doubt he will be able to hold onto his position. Though he should be praised for some admirable performances of late, I'm sorry to say that his very best is not quite good enough. Perhaps he can prove me wrong, but time is not on his side and United's upcoming splurge on players will not bode well for his starting position.
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