Manchester United have a bit of a lop-sided squad at the moment. They have an absolute embarrasment of riches both up front and out wide, whereas in the center of midfield and at full-back they’re relatively threadbare considering they expect to be challenging for their 20th title this season.
It was something of a surprise, then, when they paid the asking price to bring Ashley Young to Old Trafford, especially considering the excellent form of Nani until January and the fact that, with Antonio Valencia returning to fitness and the versatile da Silva twins having good seasons, they were already spoiled for choice.
Various theories are doing the rounds. One, that Nani will be used as a makeweight in the Berbatov deal, perhaps has some traction, whilst there is no doubt that, should one of Europe’s big guns come in with a huge offer, United will sell.
Does Ashley Young have what it takes to step into Nani’s shoes? At first glance, you’d think not. Nani is certainly the busier of the two. Remember, the higher the bar, the longer between each action.
The only statistic on which Young comes anywhere near to matching Nani is in terms of how often he hits the target – both players average in the region of one shot on target per game. You’d imagine Nani would hit the target more than he does, which indicates his profligacy in front of goal, but in the Portuguese’s defence his defensive statistics, something Sir Alex Ferguson takes very seriously, are far better than Young’s.
These are just raw figures, of course, and only tell part of the story. Aston Villa have just “enjoyed” one of their worst seasons for a number of years, and found goals very difficult to come by – 1.26 goals per game simply weren’t enough in a season where the Champions League qualifiers averaged 1.84. Meanwhile, Manchester United scored six more goals than their closest rivals Arsenal and were the only team to average more than 2 goals a game. You’d therefore imagine that Nani would get to spend a far greater proportion of his time attacking, and as such, a fairer test might be to look at each players effectiveness when they get the opportunity to deliver.
Nani has something of a reputation for being very, very wasteful with the ball when he gets into good positions. The figures bear this out. When we look at things this way, Young comes out well on top, hitting the target with almost double the consistency of Nani, which in turn saw him score with a higher percentage of his shots. Young’s cross percentage was also, unsurprisingly, far better.
Whilst many United fans will excuse Nani’s apparent wastefulness in front of goal, I think even they will be shocked at quite how wasteful he can be. Young, a similar player in a similar position who he is now in direct competition with, is twice as good at hitting the target. Twice.
Whilst Nani had a great season last year, it was in an excellent team which was able to give him the platform needed to deliver. Ashley Young delivered when given the chance but, ultimately, Villa just weren’t up to the task.
How would Young have done last season if given Nani’s opportunities to deliver and produced the same effectiveness rates?
He would have hit the target 55 times, resulting in 11 goals, and completed 90 crosses, well over one for every half of football. With Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez on the end of them, you know how that’s going to pan out.
So, although Nani grabbed the headlines last season, it was Young consistent end product with the ball which could see him edge his more illustrious rival out of the United team come the start of the season.