Patrice Evra is now 31 and United are reportedly on the hunt for a long term replacement, as well as to provide him with some competition. Having missed out on Jordi Alba, their main target appears to be Everton’s Leighton Baines. Evra’s form certainly dipped to a degree last season with him being at fault for a number of goals. In addition to this, he lost his place in the France team to Clichy due to this perceived dip in form.
A look at the statistics alone suggests that Evra had an excellent season. In fact, he was whoscored.com’s left back of the season in the Premier League. However the stats alone can be somewhat misleading as they are dependent on styles of play. For example Ashley Cole had 3.6 clearances per game when playing for England as well as only being dribbled 0.3 times, probably due to how deep England defended, which is in direct contrast to his club form for Chelsea. The stats are still a good loose framework. Cole and Evra were dribbled the highest amount.
There is not a great deal between the full-backs. Observationally, Evra and Cole have certainly made a few more errors this season than we’d expect of them. Cole was England’s number one full-back and despite having a worse domestic campaign than Baines, he had a brilliant season in the Champions League and is always dependable in big games, something stats can’t quantify. The worry for United would be that Baines has never played in the Champions League or experienced big game international football which at his age could make a move more risky.
Observationally I’d argue Baines does less one on one defending than the other full-backs as at Everton he is protected by a very defensive winger, usually Osman, as well as being covered by Distin when he roams forward. For Everton he is given much more creative license than the other full-backs who are forced to be more responsible defensively, which his lower number of tackles indicates.
Evra, Cole and Clichy get ‘dribbled more’ but this is likely because none of them have particularly good cover from their respective wide midfielders. Cole had Juan Mata for large spells who didn’t contribute at all defensively. In contrast Steven Pienaar played 12 times in the league as a left midfielder on returning to Everton recording 1.9 tackles per game in the process, which demonstrates how willing he is to assist Baines in his defensive duties. The other left backs are more exposed by attacking players in front of them. Their teams on the whole dictate games and thus commit more men forward than Everton, leaving all of their defenders quite exposed.
If Baines has Ashley Young or Nani in front of him he’d be far greater exposed than he is at Everton and thus might struggle to make the step up. At the top sides full-backs need to contribute both defensively and offensively but with less protection. The tactical role he’d play at United would thus be much different. What Baines does offer is a lot of technical ability and a great left foot; in fact he is probably the best attacking option of the left-backs in a pure technical sense. For example he had more key passes per game (2) than any of the other left-backs.
There is generally speaking a lack of quality full-backs in World football which is why teams tend to keep hold of theirs if they have one, or pay huge sums to get one. Real Madrid for example spent nearly £30 million for Portuguese full-back Fábio Coentrão. In this context, £15 million for Baines would not be loads even though it is more than United paid for Evra. The other alternative would be to scour foreign leagues for a potential cheap replacement but players like Evra don’t come about often. Jordi Alba for example only cost £11 million, the problem with buying British is that teams always have to pay over the odds.
Man United probably do need a left-back, however Evra has had a better season than many people would admit. His incredibly high standards have dropped but he is still playing at a very high level and is undoubtedly one of the best left-backs in the Premier League. Some competition would not do him any harm and United could do with the depth with the Da Silva brothers having injury problems and thus not adequately covering.
The lack of defensive cover Baines will have could leave him exposed defensively and may be too large a step up for him. Baines is a good left back but anything over £8 million, especially considering Jordi Alba was £11 million would be a huge amount of money. In an ideal world, United would be able to find a cheaper alternative abroad but left-backs are in short supply which could necessitate a move for Baines, especially now Fabio has been loaned to QPR.
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Stats are as always from whoscored.com