When the team-sheet for Manchester United’s return to the Champions League were announced shortly before kick-off on Tuesday night not many would have expected to see Ashley Young’s name.
However, boss Jose Mourinho made wholesale changes to his back-line for their first European test up against FC Basel, with Young joining Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling in a first appearance of the season.
It was arguably a calculated risk by the Portuguese tactician, with United’s Swiss opponents never likely to provide much of a test of their European credentials, but Young still impressed nonetheless.
The 32-year-old was a constant thorn in FC Basel’s side all evening, spending the majority of the match playing almost exclusively as a right-winger, such was the home side’s complete dominance, and it was his deliciously-shaped cross onto Marouane Fellaini’s head that got things up and running.
The art of crossing seems to be a dying breed in football at the highest level in recent years, but Young proved that his ability on the ball from a wide position hasn’t dipped one bit since his Aston Villa days.
The United man continued to deliver cross after cross into the FC Basel penalty area, regularly feeding Fellaini and fellow target-man Romelu Lukaku, ending the match with an 83% passing accuracy.
Whilst he had very little defensive work to do he was still alert to cut out any potential attacks before they came to fruition, keeping his focus well and doing the basics solidly when called upon.
Mourinho was quick to praise him after the match, saying to ESPN:
“Young was impressive but not a surprise. I left [Antonio] Valencia on the bench because I know what he can do, it’s no different to when I played him in so many positions last season.
“He is always positive in his answer. He had a big injury last year, surgery and recovery was really intensive and his approach has been the same in training.”
It is never likely that Young will challenge Antonio Valencia for a starting role at right-back this campaign but, with United competing on four fronts, he will undeniably be one of the more integral squad players.
If he can continue his level of performance from Tuesday evening further into the season then there’s little reason as to why Manchester United can’t maintain a lengthy challenge for silverware.