Ashley Young’s set-piece prowess can lead United to another title
With statistics from last season suggesting the extent of Manchester United’s aerial threat – scoring more headers than any other team – it’s a shame they haven’t moved for potential Barcelona-conqueror and Stoke City hurler Rory Delap in the summer window. But they’ve got the next best thing – a man who also compliments those in his team with a good head. It is Ashley Young (who, at £16million, appears a bargain in the inflated transfer market) who can give United fans more reasons to smile in the coming season.
By signing him so early in the summer, it allowed him to have an uninterrupted, successful pre-season where he obviously wasted no time settling in. On Sunday, with United trailing 2-0 to Manchester City in the Community Shield, it was his beautifully executed cross which set the team on their way to stage a gutsy fightback. Chris Smalling was in the perfect position to score; and although some dozy man-marking partly contributed to the goal, it was a fine delivery nonetheless. Young’s crossing ability is one of his greatest assets – and that bodes well for a team who scored 18 headed goals in the 2010/11 campaign.
By Young’s standards, last season was disappointing – but his record at Aston Villa is still largely impressive. In total, he played 157 times and averaged, roughly, an assist every two games. He was a particular creative threat from the dead ball, too. 31 of his 77 assists came from a set-piece, a welcoming statistic for those fans that will be quick to point out that Manchester United have been lacking an established free-kick or corner-kick taker for some time now.
A lot was also made last season from observers of United’s failures to score from corners. In April 2011, ManUtd24 looked at the declining rate of converted corner kicks in the modern game and came to the conclusion that it was a universal problem, decreasing for a variety of reasons. However, the concern shown from fans was understandable; again, many were citing that the team had no specialist takers. The addition of Young, who must be regarded as a dead ball specialist of the very highest order, will surely allay fears this time around. Indeed, it might just raise the success rate from this particular set-piece from the lowly 3.7% last season.
Indeed, he can considerably add to the goal tally with his delivery, like he had done in the earlier part of his career for Villa’s Dane skipper Martin Laursen and, more recently, Richard Dunne. While Nani was instrumental last season, creating 18 goals, he struggled somewhat from the set-piece. And what makes Young extra special is that isn’t just a creator – 17 of his 29 goals scored for the Villa Park outfit were from open play, meaning that the remaining twelve were scored from, you guessed it, the dead ball (7 free-kicks and 5 penalties).
United might opt for a flat midfield four this season – consisting of either Nani or Valencia on the right, the two central midfielders and then Ashley Young on the left. Indeed, Young has always thrived as an inverted winger, particularly enjoying cutting back onto his favoured right foot. It should be noted that he can also play as a second striker although it is difficult to imagine that’ll happen often as United are spoilt with attacking options – it is from the flanks where Young will flourish.
He has all the attributes needed to become a successful winger. As well as being able to cross and having pace in abundance, he can beat a man with ease. This was all evident in his finest season to date, the 2007/08 campaign, where he made 24 assists (nearly half of those from a set-piece, remarkably) and was eventually rewarded when PFA named him Young Player of the Year. Time has moved on, but Young has continued to influence events on the pitch. The general feeling is that, being with Manchester United and under the guidance of Sir Alex, this season could be his best yet.
Readers are free to join ManUtd24’s Fantasy League on the Official Premier League website. Here is the code: 316253-91959. Good luck! (Although, with Carrick in central midfield and Norwich’s James Vaughan on the bench in my team, you probably wouldn’t stand a chance.)