Evans to battle for United future
While the 2010-11 season was a success for Manchester United overall, Jonny Evans has fewer fond memories than most at the club of the record-breaking 19th league title-winning campaign. Ahead of the new season, the 23-year-old defender is determined to rediscover the form which earned him so many plaudits when he broke into the side in 2008.
An ever-present in each of the first six games, Evans made just three further starts in the next 30 matches as a combination of inconsistent form and injury took its toll. Furthermore, the emergence of Chris Smalling as Sir Alex Ferguson's first reserve option in central defence behind the pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was a further hindrance on his playing time and the recent arrival of Phil Jones from Blackburn is set to present another obstacle for the Northern Irishman.
Despite that, though, Evans says he is relishing the challenge and cites the example of Paul Scholes as inspiration in his bid to win back a more regular spot in United's first team.
He said: "The manager brought numerous midfielders in while (Scholes) was here and he still managed to stay at the club and will go down as one of (United's) greatest players ever. He had competition from Roy Keane and the manager spent £30 million or so on Juan Sebastian Veron, £16-18 million on Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves, people like that. That is just what Manchester United are about, you've got challenges and competition for places."
The first signs of struggles for Evans last season came in United's opening away game at Fulham in August, in which he was roughed up by Bobby Zamora. At the end of November he endured a similarly torrid time from another London-based England international, Carlton Cole, in a Carling Cup defeat at West Ham.
In February, Evans made his first league start for four months after Ferdinand was injured in the warm-up at Wolves. United subsequently conceded two set-piece goals and suffered their first defeat of the season. Evans was substituted after 64 minutes and did not return to the side for six weeks, due to an ankle injury. His comeback was a disaster, as a rash challenge on Bolton's Stuart Holden earned him a red card and three-match ban.
Despite the setbacks, Evans remains upbeat and believes he has learned to deal with any trials and tribulations he may face. He said: "Plenty of footballers have sleepless nights after games. I tend now to try and ignore everything and have my friends and family around me and try to get on with things."
While dwelling on past is something he is keen to avoid, Evans does try to use what has gone before as a valuable learning tool, as he continues to develop his all-round game.
He said: "I possibly need to strengthen up a little bit, be a bit more aggressive. I was a bit inconsistent last year and had a bit of a dip in form, playing well sometimes. I need to get that level of consistency."
As he approaches his fourth full season as a member of United's first-team squad, Evans has attained more seniority in the Old Trafford dressing room, following the departure of two defensive stalwarts with over 750 appearances between them. Wes Brown and John O'Shea have joined Sunderland, where Evans had loan spells in 2007 and 2008, and their absences have been felt already.
The stopper said: "John and Wes were two big characters and probably two of the most-liked players in the squad in terms of getting on with everyone. That's the way they were and I think they will be deeply missed from that point of view."
Evans, who joked that he hopes Darron Gibson is not next to depart - "that's my other mate!"- was one of three outfield players to complete 90 minutes in the opening game of United's pre-season tour of the USA on Wednesday. The 4-1 win over New England Revolution will be followed by matches against Seattle Sounders , Chicago Fire, an MLS all-star team featuring David Beckham and Thierry Henry and Barcelona.
United return home for Scholes' testimonial against New York Cosmos on August 5, followed by the Community Shield two days later. The defence of the Premier League title begins at West Brom on August 12 and Evans is determined that a more gratifying season from a personal point of view can benefit the team as a whole.