With Manchester United starting the season in fine form, the usual suspects have been gaining all the plaudits. But one man who has surprised both fans and pundits alike, though, is Ashley Young.
The winger has been on the fringes at Old Trafford in recent years, with it looking like an exit would be the only way to save his stalling career.
That looked set to continue this season as a strong summer transfer window only helped to push him further down the pecking order. However, Young stayed at Old Trafford, and rather than giving in, reinvented himself as a full-back and forced his way back into Jose Mourinho’s favour.
Also with the way he's playing, there's no reason Ashley Young can't get himself in to Southgate's WC Squad. Experience, pace and delivery!
— DG⭐️ (@DillonGascoigne) October 8, 2017
This has sparked suggestions he could make the England squad for the World Cup, next summer. But is he worthy of a place in the 23-man squad? Young has had a better start to the season than both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jesse Lingard, only Raheem Sterling has been far better than him.
Unfortunately, however, the stats don’t back up that point of view. When it comes to key passes, chances created and shooting, Young is behind his competitors, although given he has been playing in defence that is something he can be forgiven for.
Ashley Young – Very overlooked player and still very capable. Been fantastic at full-back so far for United due to his excellent crossing. pic.twitter.com/Tix512bHnm
— ً (@RooneyEra) October 8, 2017
The problem is he doesn’t come out on top in the defensive stats either. It is only in one stat, the number of interceptions, where he comes out on top.
At present, there are three better players than Young in the squad when it comes to the stats. Even Oxlade-Chamberlain, who hasn’t been anywhere near the levels Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool were expecting, comes out on top of him.
The one big plus point that Young does have over these, though, is versatility. This season Young has found himself playing in three different positions and performing consistently in all of them. That is something the others, even Oxlade-Chamberlain, cannot offer.
Given the limited number of spaces in a World Cup squad, it is vital for managers to have versatile players at their disposal and Young would fulfil the role for Gareth Southgate.
If @England are going to play 3 at the back the wingbacks need to be attacking. Ashley Young would do brilliantly.
— James (@jcoxy81) October 8, 2017
If the England boss is to persist with a formation that utilises wing-backs, Young can provide decent cover for either. If he instead goes with a formation that utilises wingers, he can provide decent cover there, too.
In fact, just having a man who can play several different roles would also give Southgate the chance to change things up regularly; that option to switch could prove a deciding factor for England’s chances.
Add in that Young is a decent player in his own right and it makes his inclusion seem a non-debate. If you had to choose between him and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain right now, he’d be a clear winner.
At this moment in time, there are reasons both for and against Young returning to the England squad. On one hand, the stats suggest he doesn’t deserve a place but on the other, his versatility and good form make him a worthwhile contender for a spot.
The manner in which Young has reinvented himself this season should at least put him in Southgate’s thinking. If he continues his fine form, the answer will be an easier one to make come the summer.