Why Ashley Young Can Solve Manchester United’s Wide Problem

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Ashley Young of Manchester United applauds the fans during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester United and FC Basel at Old Trafford on September 12, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Manchester United wanted a wide player in order to boost their attacking options, but the transfer window has shut and they were unable to secure a player in this position. Has the solution to their problems been right under José Mourinho’s nose all along?

Return of a forgotten man

Tuesday night’s Champions League game marked the return of Ashley Young from a long injury lay-off.

Eyebrows were raised to kick-off when rumours started to emerge that Ashley Young would be included in the starting team. The Englishman started at right-back, a problem area of its own for United, in place of the rested Antonio Valencia.

It was in the attacking third of the pitch where Young really caught the eye, however. From the very first whistle, he offered the team a great outlet on the right hand side. He consistently got beyond Juan Mata on the wing and looked dangerous every time he recieved the ball.

At 32, one could be forgiven for thinking Young may have lost a yard of pace; particularly considering he’s had his fair share of injuries. This was not the case against Basel. His pace on the overlap and positive play when one-on-one with the opposing full-back were key aspects of his performance. He never shied away or looked for the easy pass inside. This was all the more impressive, considering this was his first start in months.

The key moment that really had fans sitting up was his outstanding cross to set up the opening goal. One-on-one with his man, he sized him up, shifted the ball onto his right foot and played a perfect ball into the box. Marouane Fellaini nodded it in with ease but the finish was made so simple by the perfection of Young’s cross.

Failures out wide

Many times already this season, United have seen attacks break down because of poor delivery into the box. Could this all change with Young back in the mix?

The wide right area has been somewhat of a problem for United. Juan Mata doesn’t have the pace to be effective from the flanks; Jesse Lingard works hard but his quality on the ball can be lacking; Henrikh Mkhitaryan has also been used on the right but has already shown he is far better at number ten contributing five assists already this season. This is where the 32-year-old could have his chance to get back into the team.

The right-back area needs to be strengthened at some point, but Antonio Valencia has made this role his own over the last few seasons. The Ecuadorian should have little fears about Young taking his spot after his fine display on Tuesday, and therefore the Englishman will struggle to play anything other than a back-up role.

Further up the pitch, on the other hand, the right-wing position is still there to be claimed. Young showed against Basel that he can still be a very good outlet on that side. His excellent crossing ability is something the team have desperately lacked so far this season, and if he can stay injury free, perhaps the time has come for Mourinho to give Young the chance to make that spot in the team his own.

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