• ‘Playing with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic benefited me’
• Defender at heart of Louis van Gaal’s three centre-back system
The 26-year-old’s debut came in September 2007, since when he has made 111 Premier League appearances for the club. Under David Moyes last season Evans appeared to have become first choice and the Northern Irishman is keen to be regarded as the No1 defender in Louis van Gaal’s eyes, too.
He said: “If you look at Nemanja Vidic, he did not join us until he was 25 or 26. I think I have benefited playing with Rio and Nemanja for a long time, and Wes Brown before that, and learning a lot through my career. It is a big time in my career now.
“I had an injury [last] pre-season and missed maybe the first month of the season but once I got in, and played, I got on a pretty good run. I think the other players around me had picked up one or two niggles as well. That was the strongest period and I felt really good, even though the results weren’t coming. I wasn’t playing the way that I wanted to play in the team, in terms of getting results, but I felt good physically. Then I picked up an injury. I picked it up in November but I managed to get through to February.”
Evans believes he, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have always strived to play their best. “I don’t see this talk that we do have to sort of step up. There is myself Phil Jones and Chris Smalling [included] with the term ‘stepping up’ but for the last six or seven years it has not been a case of not wanting to step up; the aim is always to be the best that you can.”
On United’s summer tour of the US, Van Gaal has been implementing his three centre-back system. “It is different but the good thing is the manager has taken time with us and not just thrown us into a system, and said deal with that,” said Evans. “We have been watching videos of ourselves in defensive and attacking play, and he has been telling us: ‘You can do this and that better’.
“People get obsessed with formations over whether it is a three or a five but the philosophy stays the same when you are playing out from the back. A lot of teams have three at the back and two full-backs go high, and that’s how they play out. When they defend, an extra midfielder will come deeper and play in front of a back four. The advantage is you have five defenders.”
So far on tour, United have defeated Los Angeles Galaxy 7-0, Roma 3-2 and Internazionale 5-3 on penalties, following a goalless draw. “I don’t think it necessarily stays as a flat back five,” Evans said. “He [Van Gaal] will want a player stepping into the midfield and it is about the players recognising that in a game situation. You have to be smarter.”
It is understood that Van Gaal has been most impressed with Evans and his ability to play from the back but the manager has given little indication of this to him. “I don’t think a manager commits, particularly not this early on,” Evans said.
Van Gaal has installed cameras at the Carrington training pitches, which Evans welcomes. “We have this system where he can watch us. He is saying: ‘You should be five yards to the right’.
“We went through a video [the other] night and I was 10 yards out. There are times when you think: ‘Am I in the right position here, it doesn’t feel natural to me?’ but as time goes on you practise and it becomes natural.”
Is there a danger a player could overthink? “You don’t want to lose your instinct. The question is do you lose that sort of thing by thinking too much?” Evans said. “But I don’t think you do. I don’t think the manager thinks you can think enough.”
Van Gaal believes it could be three months before his methods bear fruit. “He said the same to us: ‘You will find it hard’. Not so much tactics and results but find it hard mentally because he is demanding and wants us to push ourselves to the limit,” Evans said. “We are all going to bed and sleeping well anyway.
“We want to be winning as soon as the [opening] Swansea game comes. We don’t want to be thinking ‘right three months from now we are ready to go’.”