Patrice Evra is the one with the backbone in the Manchester United team, always ready to answer the spiky questions on difficult nights
But his work in the last four days has blown a major hole in the logic of Sir Alex Ferguson's summer transfers. Robin van Persie's arrival was a huge statement of intent, but was another striker really more important than a world-class left-back? The question hangs uncomfortably, even after a 2-1 win in Cluj on Tuesday which showed what damage Van Persie and Wayne Rooney will do.
But strikers look like a luxury in the week when Evra's poor positioning left his central defenders exposed to the jet heels of Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale and when Cluj's Senegalese winger Modou Sougou left him grasping at thin air.
This is a very pale imitation of the left-back who was once among the world's best. Iceland's Rurik Gislason's pace punished him so much in a friendly in Paris early last summer that Evra, at fault for two goals, was out of Laurent Blanc's side for much of the European Championship.
His position is only secure at United because there is no challenger. There were too many rumours that Everton's Leighton Baines was being pursued as a replacement for the 31-year-old last summer for them to be baseless, though they were denied.
With Fabio da Silva loaned to Queen's Park Rangers and not yet at the United level, that leaves Alex Büttner, signed for £4m from Vitesse Arnhem as back up for Evra, and not seen as anything more.
What preoccupied Ferguson this summer was the goal difference which took the title to Manchester City last season. Yet they lost that title because of the 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford in April, a game in which Evra allowed the Everton right-back Tony Hibbert too much space to cross for the first and second goals.
Evra admits United's habit of falling behind must be eradicated on Sunday at Newcastle United. "A disaster," he says of last season's 3-0 loss there, when Phil Jones suffered. Evra also cautioned against forgetting Rooney, because of the novelty of Van Persie. "When a new player comes then everyone is talking about that," he said. "But the players who were already at the club have to show they will never die." For Evra, left, that seems like a hard challenge.
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