Rangers v Manchester United: Jonny Evans at crossroads
Jonny Evans has admitted he is now facing the biggest challenge of his Manchester United career.
And for a man who first tasted international football playing out of position for Northern Ireland at left-back against the might of Spain when just 18 years old before making his Premier League debut for the Red Devils in a clash with Chelsea, he isn’t usually phased by any kind of challenge.
The Northern Ireland defender will tonight be handed the chance to show that an early-season dip in form — which cost him his place in the team, which was only regained in a Carling Cup tie — was nothing more than the first blip in what has already been an eventful career for the 22-year-old.
Evans will start tonight's Champions League clash with Rangers at Ibrox after Sir Alex Ferguson opted to rest Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
It is a heaven-sent opportunity to impress for Evans, who by his own admission, slipped below the standards that had him earmarked as a genuine rival for Ferdinand's first-team berth at the start of the season.
Indeed, it could be argued newcomer Chris Smalling, who will partner Evans tonight, has now leaped his team-mate in the central defensive pecking order after doing enough during his first few months at Old Trafford to earn a call into Fabio Capello's squad for the France game last week.
Evans is intelligent enough to admit the pressure is on.
“This is probably the biggest challenge I have had,” he said.
“It is the first time I have been taken out of the team because of performances.
“I was playing quite a bit at the start of the season but my performances were probably not up to scratch and I have been out of the team for a while. I am not going to mope about it. This is a good opportunity for me.
“I played for Northern Ireland last week and got 90 minutes under my belt. When I get onto the pitch I must make sure I do the best I can.”
Evans should be able to supply some inside information on tonight's opponents too given he is close friends with Rangers duo Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis — his Northern Ireland team-mates.
Evans even took advantage of his axing for the Premier League win at Stoke last month to attend his first Old Firm game, which the visitors won at Parkhead.
“I have never been to Ibrox before but one of the benefits of being dropped was that I was able to come up for the Celtic-Rangers game,” said Evans.
“It was a great experience.
“I was going to give Kyle a call later. The plan is to get the team. If I find it out, you know where it has come from.”
Meanwhile, Evans insists Manchester United’s players have no problems with Wayne Rooney.
“You read that he has fallen out with team-mates, but there has been none of that whatsoever,” he said.
“It has just carried on as normal. He is a big character in the changing room, always bubbly.
“He has always had that desire to win and is a fantastic player. That is not just going to go away.
“Last year his form was outstanding with the amount of goals he got. Hopefully he can bring that back to the team.”
Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson is counting this as a fresh start after a disappointing early season that also included allegations about Rooney's private life.
“Absolutely,” Ferguson said. “There is no question about that.
“This is a high-profile match, on a terrific pitch, in a great stadium with a terrific atmosphere. All the signs are plus ones, particularly for a player of Wayne's ability.”