Ashley Young was one of the big buys of the summer. but has found himself on the Old Trafford bench recently. Just what has happened?

Ashley Young was one of the big buys of the summer, as Man Utd spent £16 million to bring the Aston Villa star to Old Trafford. With the Red Devils investing in youth, Young looked to be the perfect fit for this season’s new-look Man Utd team.

He started off with a bang, creating a goal for Wayne Rooney and then a deflected shot for a hand in both strikes at West Brom. Then against Arsenal, the England international scored twice and set up three others, as the Red Devils thrashed the Gunners 8-2. It looked as if he was the perfect fit for Fergie’s new look side.

As Man Utd continued to roll, so did the form of Ashley Young. An assist followed in United’s next home match with Chelsea, but since then, he is still to record a single goal or assist in two months. He has missed games with a toe injury, and been in and out of the line-up, finding himself on the substitutes bench against Wolves and then QPR on Sunday. So, just what has happened to Ashley Young in recent weeks for Man Utd?

Ashley Young and his downturn in form

Ashley Young began the season playing superbly. A talented player whilst at Aston Villa, putting him in to a Man Utd side alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney and Luis Nani brought out the best in him.

If we look at his first five Premier League games in a Man Utd shirt, compared to the last eleven games, we can see a marked difference in his performance.

 

Games 1-5

Games 6-16

Mins on pitch

410

408

Goals

2

0

Assists

6

0

Shots at goal

12

13

Shooting Accuracy (%)

50%

23%

Mins per touch

1.2 mins

1.8 mins

Passing accuracy

83%

78%

Mins per key pass

51 mins

68 mins

Crossing success

20%

16%

Mins per cross attempt

12 mins

17 mins

Ashley Young has played almost as many minutes in the last eleven matches as he did in the first five games due to injury and being on the bench. However, what leaps out apart from his dramatic fall off in goals and assists, are his shooting percentage and minutes per key pass.

In his first five Premier League games, Ashley Young was hitting the target with 50% of his shots. Since then, he has taken almost the same number of shots, so we know his frequency of shooting is about the same, but his accuracy has halved.

He also generated 6 assists through his first five games, but since then he hasn’t set up any more goals. His key passes have decreased in this time, as he is now making a chance-creating pass every 68 minutes, as opposed to every 51 minutes before.

Off the back of his key pass minutes going the wrong way, Young’s crossing success has dipped. In his first five games, Ashley Young was putting in a successful cross with 20% of his attempts, but since then his accuracy has gone down to 16%. This sits him well behind league leaders Matt Jarvis (30%) and Jermaine Pennant (26%), and also his own 21% accuracy whilst at Aston Villa last term.

So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at Ashley Young’s performances in more detail.

Playing with width

What we know Ashley Young for is playing with width and working the left wing.

If we take a look at some of his performances from his first five games, we can see that he is doing this to great effect.

Against West Brom in his first game, we can see that Ashley Young (18) is playing higher up the pitch than Wayne Rooney (10) and Danny Wellbeck (19, behind Rooney), as well as Nani (17). Young is playing with plenty of width, almost hugging the touchline and he provided two assists on the day.

ashley-young-avg-pos-WBA

In United’s match with Arsenal, Young (18) is again playing wide, but not as high up the pitch this time. Rooney (10), Nani (17), Wellbeck (19) and Hernandez (14) are all ahead of him but playing narrower. Young scored twice and added three assists on the day as his great form continued.

ashley-young-avg-pos-AFC

Man United’s next home match with Chelsea again saw Ashley Young (18) continue to hug the touchline, but this time feature higher up the park at the same level as Berbatov (9), Rooney (behind Berbatov) and Nani (17). Young would assist on Chris Smalling’s opener, but that is his last goal or set-up on the season.
ashley-young-avg-pos-CFC

In Man Utd’s eleven games since the win over Chelsea, Ashley Young has featured seven times, but isn’t playing with the same width as we saw in his first five matches. After sitting out three matches with a toe injury, Young came back against Newcastle and played the full 90 minutes, but he was playing a lot narrower.

ashley-young-avg-pos-NUFC

Young (18) is in advance of Wayne Rooney, who is now playing in a deeper midfield role, but at the same level as Javier Hernandez (14). It is a lot more attacking role, but as we’ll see in a minute, Young was unable to hit the target with any of his three shots.

Against Aston Villa, his last start for Man Utd, we can see that again Ashley Young (18) is playing narrower on the left. He is deeper than Wayne Rooney (10), who moved up front after Hernandez (14) was injured in the opening moments. Young again failed to supply a goal or an assist, only hitting the target with one of his two shots.

ashley-young-avg-pos-AVFC

If we look at some heat maps from these games we can see that Ashley Young is playing narrower, not by much, but it is clearly visible.

Against West Brom and Chelsea, when Ashley Young was enjoying some of his best form, we can see just how much he is hugging the touchline. All of his passing is in the left hand set of boxes, a testament to how wide he plays.

ashley-young-man-utd-left-

Compare that to his last two starts, where against Newcastle and Aston Villa, he has strayed more in to the left central channel boxes. Against his former club (below right), he was more disciplined down the left flank, but he is still coming inside more centrally than when in his good run of form.

ashley-young-pass-inside

The impact on the shooting accuracy of Ashley Young

As we saw earlier, Ashley Young has taken a similar amount of shots in the last eleven  matches as he did in his first five Premier League games; he just isn’t hitting the target as regularly.

His shooting accuracy has dipped by half from 50% to 23%. If we take a look at two of the games where he was playing well against his last two starts, we can see that when he scored against Arsenal he likes to shoot from the corner of the 18-yard area.

ashley-young-good-shots

Young continually works the keeper in the game against the Gunners and also from a similar spot in the 3-1 win against Chelsea.

If we look at his last two starts, we can that Ashley Young is still getting shots away from the same area, but is now failing to hit the target.

ashley-young-bad-shots

Against Aston Villa (right) he was able to work the keeper from the left side of the penalty area, but he also blazed a shot over from way outside the box. In the match with Newcastle (left), he is again getting to the corner of the area, but this time he has his shots: blocked, hit a post and one goes wide.

Ashley Young is still getting in to the same goal scoring positions that he likes, he just isn’t hitting the target. This comes from a lack of confidence from having a lean run, if he can increase his accuracy again, there is no reason the goals won’t follow.

Ashley Young and the Rooney effect

If we go back to Ashley Young’s first five Premier League games, we can see that he likes to work out on the left with Wayne Rooney. Young had six assists through the first five matches, of which three of them were for Rooney goals.

If we look at some heat maps for Wayne Rooney in the matches with Chelsea and Spurs in Man Utd’s first five Premier League games, we can see how Rooney drifts out to the left.

Against Chelsea, Rooney is completing 20% of his passes out on Young’s left wing and a further 18% in the inside left channel high up the pitch. In the match with Spurs, again Rooney drifts out to the left with 52% of his passes in the four left-hand squares inside the Spurs half.

wayne-rooney-left

In Ashley Young's last two starts against Newcastle and Aston Villa, we can see that now Wayne Rooney is not favouring this left hand side of the pitch as much.

wayne-rooney-center

In the match with Newcastle (right), Rooney’s passing is a lot more centralised. He still comes out to the left side for 23% of his passes, but 16% of these are only just inside the opposition half and not high enough up the pitch like against Chelsea or Spurs.

Against Aston Villa (above left), Rooney favours the left side even less, only venturing out to the flank for just 16% of his passes, again half of which are just inside the Villa half. Maybe this is causing Ashley Young to come inside looking for the ball?

The effect on the crossing of Ashley Young

From the stats highlighted earlier, we can see that Ashley Young was putting in a cross every 12 minutes and completing them at 20% in his first five Premier League matches. Since then his completion rate has dipped to 16% and he is putting in a cross only every 17 minutes.

Young is also generating less key passes, which is only natural since his crossing completion has gone down. He is now only making a chance-creating key pass every 68 minutes, compared to every 51 minutes before.

The reason for this is a combination of a couple of the above factors. Firstly, he is not playing with as much width, and secondly, he is touching the ball less now. In his first five Premier League matches, he was touching the ball every 1.2 minutes on pitch, now he is only getting a touch every 1.8 minutes. It may not appear like much, but over a 90-minute match, this could be an extra 22 touches of the ball for him.

What has happened to Ashley Young?

Ashley Young started the season with a bang as he was playing with width, getting touches of the ball, getting shots on target, linking up with Wayne Rooney and completing crosses.

Since then, he is playing slightly narrower, not by much, but he is definitely coming inside by 5-10 yards, which can make all the difference to stretching an opposition’s defence. As a result, he is touching the ball less and therefore playing in fewer chance-creating key passes and completing less crosses.

His shooting is still at the same level as before, it’s just his accuracy that needs to improve. He is still getting shots from the same areas of the pitch; he is just not converting them.

Ashley Young doesn’t appear to be too far away from returning to form; he just needs to get back to what he was doing well when he pulled on a Man Utd shirt.