Watching yesterday’s edition of the Second City Derby, won in style 5-1 by Aston Villa, one had to have been impressed with the victors. They scored from open play and set pieces. They ran Birmingham ragged from start to finish. Ever since manager Martin O’Neill altered his team’s formation to a 4-3-3, they’ve been almost unstoppable in the league and it continued this afternoon.
The one player who appears to have benefited the most from this change is Ashley Young, who I’ve been high on ever since watching him play against Liverpool during the first weekend of the 2007-2008 season. O’Neill has given his star 22-year old, who was acquired from Watford for nearly $20 million, a free role now, instead of playing him solely on the left wing.
Make no mistake, Young was having a great season before yesterday’s game, in which he scored twice and got an assist after swinging in a free kick to John Carew. He’s been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, and although he won’t win it, the acknowledgement of his play by his peers counts for a lot. He and teammate Gabby Agbonlahor, also nominated, are up against the likes of more established superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres.
Still, Young’s new role allows him to roam all over the field and we saw that today. He was everywhere; he scored his first goal in the center of the field, his second cutting in from the left, and his through ball that sprung Gareth Barry, who then assisted Carew for Villa’s third tally, was played on the right side. Young is up to seven goals and 17 assists in the Premiership this season.
I’ve said this so many times, this is a two-footed player with great pace, good technical ability, and is a deadly crosser of the ball, both from open play and on the set piece.
In addition to my admiration for him, which, admittedly, doesn’t count for much, you have to think England boss Fabio Capello shares the same sentiment, or at least close to it. Capello was in attendance at Villa Park and although you couldn’t tell from his facial expressions, he undoubtedly was pleased with what he saw from Young.
Capello has a plethora of right-sided wingers to choose from — David Bentley, David Beckham, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips, etc. — but really doesn’t have many options on the left aside from Stewart Downing. In my opinion, Young is a much, much better and more complete player than the Middlesbrough stalwart, and does seem like the future at that position for England.
England’s next game is Wednesday, May 28, against the US at Wembley, and then they’ll make a trip to Trinidad and Tobago four days later. Expect to see Ashley Young in the starting lineup in at least one of those friendlies, if not both. He deserves a call-up, and I think he’ll get it.