Young shows his value at left-back and helps Man Utd maintain winning form
Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini were prepared. The Belgian internationals were big targets for left-back Ashley Young, the right footer who was making his third successive start of the season at Southampton.
With 20 minutes gone on Saturday, Young curled a perfect cross toward Lukaku, the man on a mission to finish as the Premier League's top scorer this season. The striker got the better of defenders Wesley Hoedt and Ryan Bertrand and headed toward Fraser Forster's goal.
After the Southampton goalkeeper's stunning save, Lukaku tapped in his sixth goal in six league games and the tally was enough to secure victory although, as with February's EFL Cup final at Wembley, United were fortune to triumph against an impressive Saints' side.
The result means United have won five and drawn one of their opening six league games; it's the best start since a similar run in 2011-12, though nobody wants reminding how that season ended with Manchester City winning the title on goal difference. Nor does anyone want reminding of the last time United had a better start: In 1985-86 United won their opening 10 games... and finished fourth.
Then a winger, Young joined the club ahead of the aforementioned 2011-12 campaign. He played 33 games in all competitions -- the most in any of his six full seasons at Old Trafford -- and scored eight times, the most he has managed in a single campaign with United. Now 32 and in the last year of his contract, he's still showing he can perform well.
"He's a very good player, especially when he's one-on-one (with an opponent)," ex-United left-back Patrice Evra tells ESPN FC. "He gets the ball, stops the ball and crosses the ball. He's very good at creating or finding the space to do that. He's also good at delivering the ball accurately, curling it around the defence at just the right height for attackers. He's perfect for the tall guys waiting like Lukaku or Fellaini."
Former teammates Evra and Young keep in touch, a contact the Frenchman appreciates as he maintains his addiction to United. They've also found common ground by virtue of the position they play.
"Ash says to me: 'You have to run so much in this position!' And I reply: 'Now you can understand why I was always tired after games," says Evra. "But Ash has surprised me with his energy and he's been good because left-back has not been a settled position for United. When he plays he does a good job and the team needs someone like him.
"He's a player that will always give everything and I know that because we played together on the left many times," continues Evra. "We had a good understanding and he would naturally take your position if you move forward; you didn't have to instruct him. Ash is a generous player, one who puts the team first. I know he was criticised for diving a few years ago, but he's not a cheat. No chance. And I don't just say that because Ash is a funny guy, always laughing, especially at my jokes!"
Evra, who left United in 2014, does have some reservations about Young's musical tastes, however.
"We would fight in the dressing room because he thought he was a better DJ than me, but I'm ten thousand times better than him as a DJ and it's important people know that," says Evra. "Ash only wanted to play hip hop music, but I wanted variety for all of the players to enjoy, from reggae to hip hop and dance. Unlike Ash, I didn't only want the music which I liked. So I said to Ash: 'I'm the DJ; I was here before you came. I did give him one chance to put music on, but the rest of the players were asking: 'What the hell is that?' I told Ash that I'd given him a chance, but he'd not taken it!"
Young and Evra played for three full seasons together after the England international arrived from Aston Villa.
"My best memory of Ash is when he was injured in 2013 and we won the league. He was on crutches and I ran, picked him up on my back and carried him so that we could lift the trophy. There's a beautiful picture of that, which I know he has."
Young has not been fortuitous with injury over the years but, says Evra, "when he was fit he always worked hard for the team, never complained." He started this season recovering from a muscular injury and impressed Jose Mourinho with his commitment alongside Luke Shaw during his recovery.
Young didn't complain when he wasn't selected after getting fit but he's played 90 minutes against Basel, Everton and Southampton in the last two weeks; United have won all three games, scoring eight without reply. He might appear an unlikely fit at left back, but one of Mourinho's biggest successes at United has been making another one-time winger, Antonio Valencia, his first choice on the opposite flank.
Young has played 167 times for United, though 2014-15 was the only season in which he has started more than 20 league games in a season; last term he was in the XI just eight times. He's liked rather than loved by most fans, many of whom found it hard to defend a series of dives several years. In more recent time, he appears to have eradicated that trait from his game.
That he has been preferred to Shaw, Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind shows that his manager rates him in an area that could become a problem position, especially against the best teams. Young could be a surprise option but, for now, his greatest talking point is that cross to Lukaku.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.