The look of sheer disbelief on Jose Mourinho’s face said it all.
Eyes widened and face contorted in shock, the Manchester United manager could scarcely believe the inch-perfect free-kick Ashley Young had just delivered into the top corner during Tuesday’s 4-2 triumph at Watford.
This incredulity at the staggering events of Vicarage Road was undoubtedly multiplied by the fact the 32-year-old had only moments before lashed a thundering skimmer past the helpless Heurelho Gomes for the opener, while his deflected effort at the weekend provided the only goal of a stodgy 1-0 win against promoted Brighton.
Beyond providing fresh viral content for the insatiable vultures callously manning Twitter’s plethora of ‘football banter’ accounts, the reaction of the ‘Special One’ spoke volumes. For all that is to be lauded about Young’s latest renaissance, true title pretenders should not be leaning so heavily on him.
Do not forget, we are talking about a veteran right winger who has been shunted into left-back/ left wing-back.
A learned diligence in defence, boundless energy and punishing accuracy on crosses have been behind the player’s re-emergence.
— Ashley Young (@youngy18) November 28, 2017
But in a squad assembled at lavish cost, something has gone wrong for Young to be a leading figure.
His displays directly shame the likes of specialists Luke Shaw and Daley Blind. The former has steadily become persona non grata since being signed for £30 million (Dh183.9m) in June 2014.
They also embarrass mothballed playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and even Romelu Lukaku, a striker who Mourinho jokes desperately requires a new boot deal to replicate his electric start in red.
These are the players who should be deciding United’s matches. Not Young, for whom United supporters have grown wearily to like after years stained by diving and underperformance following a 2011 arrival from Aston Villa.
Full-back is a position of growing importance as the trend continues for midfields dominating the centre ground. Premier League leaders Manchester City lavished £131.5m (Dh647.1m) this summer on positions Pep Guardiola has always valued.
Young’s simultaneous rise in importance is just another mark of disparity between the two rivals.
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