Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Van Gaal puts faith in our boy Evans to be defensive leader

Chance to shine: Jonny Evans is a favourite of new United boss Louis van Gaal
Chance to shine: Jonny Evans is a favourite of new United boss Louis van Gaal

When Louis van Gaal took over as Manchester United manager many felt that Jonny Evans would be on his bike quicker than Laura Trott!

Just about every high class central defender on the planet was linked with a move to Old Trafford as speculation mounted that the Dutchman would recruit a completely new backline leaving Evans and others no option but to move on.

Forget that. Van Gaal has taken to the Ulsterman.

Since arriving at Old Trafford, following Holland's exploits at the World Cup, Van Gaal has studied and analysed his players on the training pitch, in pre-season games and around the team hotel and the Northern Ireland international has impressed more than most.

Back in Manchester after the tour of America, Van Gaal is determined to forge ahead with his preferred 3-4-1-2 system for the new Premier League season, which begins next Saturday, and Evans, even allowing for new signings sure to come, is in prime position to be one of the key figures in it.

Great news for Jonny and Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who needs a match-fit Evans playing with confidence when the 2016 Euro qualifiers start in September.

Northern Ireland's opener is in Hungary, which is exactly what Evans has been from the moment Van Gaal walked through the United door.

The 26-year-old has been at Old Trafford since he was a kid, making his debut in 2007. He has shone on loan spells at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland, but it's at United where he has always wanted to make his name.

Though injury restricted his Premier League appearances to just 17 under David Moyes last season, he has been a regular in recent years and amassed 181 games for the Red Devils, but the truth is throughout his United career he has been overshadowed by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

They have moved on, along with another experienced defensive figure Patrice Evra, leaving Evans as the longest-serving player at the back. He is the main man now and is acting as such with authority on and off the field, so much so that Van Gaal has considered him as captain material.

The Dutchman likes his defenders to be able to play, keep possession and have the ability to start attacks as well as keep the opposition at bay.

Evans has always had those qualities – comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of passing from his left or right side he has adapted well to the LVG formation.

Defensively he is strong in the air and totally committed to the United cause, but he has weaknesses such as lapses in concentration and positioning. Improvements in those areas tend to come from experience.... and guidance from the boss, which has been forthcoming via the use of technology.

Apart from ordering players to speak English to each other and having circular tables at meal times to encourage conversation and team spirit, another idea implemented by Van Gaal has been to install state of the art cameras at the club's training ground in order for video analysis to be undertaken.

Evans says: "We have this system where the manager can watch us on the pitch. He is saying things like, 'You should be five yards to the right' after watching the footage and we are able to see things that are happening live on the pitch.

"We went through a video recently and I was 10 yards out of position. Then he will show you in the video and you will know."

Evans, who says this is a 'big time' for him at United, welcomes the extra scrutiny believing it can make him a better player, adding that if highly priced defenders join the club, he'll see it as a 'challenge' not something to fear.

Music to Van Gaal's ears.

Jonny Evans... the time is now. To fulfil your destiny and finally become the leader of the Manchester United defence.

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