“That was my 200th game for Man Utd, I never thought I would ever reach that figure – the best night of my life,” Jonny Evans said, right before Bruno Fernandes quite rightly, and graciously, handed over his Man of the Match award to the defender after a beautiful assist and the sort of solid and composed defending United have sorely missed this season.
And his performance got us thinking, which other spurned Red Devils could have done a Jonny Evans this season in doing a better job than the rabble Erik ten Hag has to choose from? We’ve picked five…
Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace)
Technically a Premier League champion having sat on the bench for United in the 2012/13 season, Johnstone never made an appearance for the senior side at Old Trafford and is now keeping Dean Henderson – the man who was supposed to succeed David de Gea at United – out of the first team at Crystal Palace.
And at the end of a week in which De Gea’s actual successor has been pilloried for a high-profile mistake in the Champions League, Johnstone was named Man of the Match for a string of fine saves in the 0-0 draw with Fulham.
Anthony Elanga (Nottingam Forest)
When United allowed Elanga to leave for £15m in July they thought Erik ten Hag would have Jadon Sancho, Antony and Mason Greenwood to call upon in attack. Now that they don’t have any of them – quite possibly for the season – that doesn’t look like such good business.
Having very briefly been built up to be a rare Academy product for the Red Devils fans to hang their hats on, Elanga left with barely a murmur of discontent, but he’s already got a goal – a lovely one against Chelsea – and an assist for Forest this season, which is more than can be said for every forward United still have in their ranks, other than Marcus Rashford, who also has a goal and an assist, but has featured for more than twice as many minutes this season.
Chris Smalling (Roma)
He’s been a stalwart at Roma since leaving Old Trafford in 2019 and him and Evans back together in defence would be both a nostalgic delight and actually a pairing that may work together rather successfully. Some no-nonsense stuff and aerial dominance from right-footed Smalling and more composure and quality on the ball from left-footed Evans.
The much-maligned midfielder left in the summer for just £8m and there’s little doubt Casemiro would have valued his compatriot alongside him this season as he wades through treacle back towards his own penalty area. United fans will hope the midfield ‘legs’ department will be boosted by the arrival of Sofyan Amrabat.
Memphis Depay (Atletico Madrid)
There were reports back in January that United were keen on Depay, who may well have returned had it not been for his apparently unreasonable contract demands. They could really do with him now.
The Netherlands international has managed 96 goals and 57 assists in 232 games since leaving United in January 2017 after just 18 months at the club, including six in 11 games for current club Atletico Madrid. In a team short of goals, creative spark and players who can play in forward positions, Depay’s ability to thrive both on the wing and up top would be very useful indeed for Ten hag right now.