Jonny Evans has emerged as a rival to Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie for the Manchester United captaincy, with the manager, Louis van Gaal, an admirer of the defender’s maturity and presence.
Evans has impressed on United’s tour of North America. The Northern Irishman has been among the team’s best performers in the three matches played and United are unbeaten, having conceded only two goals.
Van Gaal has been assessing the character of his players on the trip that has taken in California, Colarado and Washington DC, where LA Galaxy, Roma and Internazionale had been defeated. Evans has been put down for a starting berth as one of his three centre-backs in the manager’s strongest XI, owing to his ease with playing out from the back – essential in Van Gaal’s fluid 3-4-1-2 system – and his ability to play off both feet.
Van Persie remains the favourite to become Van Gaal’s captain but the manager is conscious that Rooney had been in line to replace Nemanja Vidic as the team leader under David Moyes. Evans, then, would also represent a way of defusing any disquiet if one of the strikers was favoured over the other.
Despite pre-season tours usually featuring only gentle opposition, Van Gaal has been pleased with the calibre of opposition, with Roma and Internazionale followed by Saturday’s meeting with Real Madrid in Ann Arbour which is a 110,000 sell-out at Michigan Stadium.
Of the match at a venue nicknamed the Big House, the manager said: “We played against Roma, who were second in the Italian league, then against Inter Milan, who were third in the Italian league. Now we play Real Madrid and it is nice to play against such teams, so you can show you are at least equal.”
Ashley Young lined up in an unfamiliar left wing-back berth for the 5-3 penalty shootout win over Internazionale and he is willing to adapt his game as he fights for a place in the side.
“I am enjoying playing there. The Inter game was only the second time I had played there, but we go through it in training, it is a new system, and I feel capable of going out there and doing well,” he said.
“I will have to see how it goes and it is down to the manager what happens because he picks the team that goes out there. But whenever I am called upon, I will give 100% and if I can continue producing performances like the one in Washington, then I can hopefully stay in the team. I have always been determined to go out and play and I hope I can stay in the team. Everyone wants to impress him, but the only way you can do that is by training hard and performing on the pitch.”
Young has a point to prove after his failure to make England’s World Cup squad in Brazil 2014. “Of course it was a disappointment to miss out on the World Cup but it is a new season and a new manager has come in,” he said. “It’s been good to play in the different positions. I started on the left [against Inter] and ended up on the right. I can play in both wing-back positions and if the manager calls on me to do something, I’ve got every confidence in myself to go out there and play well.
“It’s always nice to hear praise from the manager and when he puts that belief in you to go out there and perform you want to repay him, and that’s exactly what I’m looking to do every time I pull on the United shirt.”