It’s safe to say that the route between Manchester and Milan is a little more trodden these days after the summer signings of United duo Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. With the further additions of Christian Eriksen and Victor Moses in January, it’s clear to see the Premier League influence at the Giuseppe Meazza this season. Antonio Conte’s move to bring experienced full-back Ashley Young to the capital of Lombardy, however, was dismissed by many.
Most Manchester United supporters - and football fans in general - had assumed that Young was undergoing a steady decline over his last few years at Old Trafford. After all, life as a modern-day wing-back in England is centred much around pace and agility, attributes of which the defender has seen a decline during later years of his career.
Instead, however, Young's transfer to I Nerazzurri in January has seen the Englishman revitalised under former Chelsea boss Conte and his ability to play various roles has boosted an Inter side chasing down Juventus for the Serie A title this time around.
This was not a rash, impromptu transfer decision from the experienced, Italian manager who Young confirmed had previously tried to sign him whilst in charge of Chelsea.
"He wanted me a couple of years ago at Chelsea, he's a fantastic manager, he's won trophies and he's got an ambition to want to achieve things. I want to do that as well; I want to achieve here at Inter,” Young was quoted as telling the Italian press after joining on an initial loan.
So far for Internazionale, Young has featured in six matches resulting in 459 minutes of action. During that time, he notched up his first Serie A assist within half an hour of his debut by whipping an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Argentinian striker Lautaro Martinez and scored his first goal against high-flying Lazio last weekend with a tidy, volleyed finish.
But it’s beyond these obvious statistics where he has impressed the Inter faithful the most. His work rate has been second to none, flying up and down either wing and his versatility and experience has shown when playing in three different positions to date; left midfielder, right midfield and right-back.
His work rate is emphasised when you look deeper into his individual statistics. Young has had four shots on target from full-back, averaged 31.25 passes a match at a completion rate of 74.8% (six of which were key passes), made six tackles, taken on the opposition successfully six times and has helped defensively with nine clearances. He has been an all-rounder, capable of defending when needed but most importantly for Inter providing attacking support down either side of the pitch.
This begs the question of Manchester United and why they would let him leave in the middle of a season where they had been struggling - before their recent Bruno Fernandes-inspired turnaround.
With Luke Shaw recovering from recent injury woes and youngster Brandon Williams hitting form, it’s easy to see on the surface why Ole Gunnar Solksjaer opted to go down a different route at the time and choose youth over experience. Despite Ashley Young and Brandon Williams having a remarkably similar performance record for United this season across the in-depth statistics, the veteran was never likely to appreciate a serious decrease in playing time.
The difference in Young’s performances for both teams, therefore, must come from a tactical standpoint. At Inter, Conte has adopted a structured 3-5-2 formation where the full-backs are not so heavily relied upon defensively.
Whilst Marcelo Brozovic drifts out wide and sweeps up from the centre of midfield, Stefan de Vrij, Milan Skriniar and Diego Godin form a much more formidable central defence than United currently possess.
This is a system that suits the now slower Englishman, a complete contrast to the formation United used at the beginning of the season.
Young was played at either rigid full-back position in a back four with United. From this, it’s clear that Solksjaer didn’t fully accommodate Young and play to his current strengths in a more effective role. As a result, this led to the obvious scapegoating from a section of fans, whether justified or not, and a clear need for a new start and challenge for the defender.
If Solksjaer had adopted the 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 formation he has used of late whilst the defender was still with the Red Devils, the story could have been different. At the very least, Young would have provided great depth from the bench whilst offering invaluable leadership for a youthful, largely inexperienced squad.
With emerging younger talent and a tactical system that he didn’t fully perform within it’s understandable why Manchester United moved on from Ashley Young in January. However, it’s a case of United’s loss and Inter's gain as the English full-back goes from strength to strength for Conte and his new team.
Source : 90min