Being Manchester United’s most experienced centre-half comes with a great burden of responsibility, but Old Trafford stalwart Jonny Evans has all the tools at his disposal to nail down the role of defensive lynchpin in new coach Louis van Gaal’s three-man backline.
You can get 17/20 about United keeping over 15.5 top-flight clean sheets this term under the Dutch gaffer, and considering they managed 13 in a difficult 2013/14 season that looks a bet worth being on.
An in-depth interview with 31-cap Northern Ireland international Evans appears in today’s Guardian, where the 26-year-old speaks with passion about the lessons he has learned from playing alongside former Stretford End heroes Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown.
Evans is now the elder statesman of United’s centre-half ranks, and his record in a red shirt suggests he will be the key defensive component of Van Gaal’s 3-5-1/3-4-1-2 formation alongside Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, who are 24 and 22 respectively.
Of United’s centre-halves, only Vidic bested Evans’ 7.8 clearances per top-flight fixture last term with 10.6, according to WhoScored.com, and the departing Serbian is repeatedly heralded as one of the world’s best at said task.
Furthermore, in 17 Premier League matches under David Moyes, Evans was successfully dribbled by opposition players just three times, the joint-least of any Utd defender alongside Smalling and 16 times fewer than Jones, who started just nine games more.
Indeed, Evans started 17 games in all competitions before New Year’s Day and his side only lost two of them, while slumping to defeat on three occasions without the Belfast man in from the off.
He made the teamsheet for all of the then-champions’ fixtures during a six-game winning run during December – by far their most successful period under Moyes – and Evans was also in from the off for eye-catching victories-to-nil against Liverpool, Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen.
The three-time Premier League winner’s most influential season of his six in the Old Trafford seniors came just at the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s long tenure in 2012/13.
With Evans in the starting line-up, Man Utd won 20 times in all competitions and lost just twice – on both occasions by a single goal – while without the former Sunderland loanee on the teamsheet, the Red Devils posted seven losses and won 16 matches.
Fitness issues curtailed Evans’ 2013/14 season – he started just eight times after 2014 broke – but his record over the past couple of seasons, when free from injury, strongly indicates that the 6ft2in defenseman’s importance to Van Gaal cannot be overstated.