Jonny Evans: developing my defending skills
Leicester City defender, Jonny Evans, reflects on his career so far to highlight what helped him become a skilful Premier League centre-back.
Evans, a Manchester United academy graduate, helped the Red Devils clinch three English top-flight titles and other silverware before leaving in 2015. He then played his part in a historic FA Cup campaign for Leicester, as they won the tournament for the first time.
Here, Evans shares insight into what he’s learnt and how he plays the game.
Learning from others
Leaning on the knowledge of others is a valuable tool for development. Evans, who has over 90 caps for Northern Ireland, has played alongside some of the best in the Premier League. Learning from them has helped him develop his game.
“Outside of the coaching side of it, I think a lot of my influences came from playing alongside good players.
“I played left-back on my debut for Northern Ireland. I wasn’t an attacking left-back; I was more like a fourth centre-back.
“Aaron Hughes was playing at the back. The speed at which he moved the defensive line was something that stuck with me. I couldn’t keep up with him at the time. Physically, the way he was squeezing the pitch and moving up, it’s something that’s never really left me.
“Nemanja Vidic [at Manchester United] was another one. He didn’t stop moving his body position. I remember I wasn’t playing in the game; I was watching from behind the goal – which is always a good angle to watch defenders and how they’re moving across the pitch – and just watching the way he moved. He was moving his body every two or three seconds. That’s something that really stuck with me: he would never allow himself to be square to the play at any time.”
Knowing where to stand in comparison to the ball and how to use your body shape when defending will give you an advantage over your opponent. Evans often has to press high playing for The Foxes, which leaves space behind their defensive line. But knowing how to use those skills allows him to be prepared if the opposition break.
“Your starting position [is very important]. Also, your body shape – being ready to go backwards if you need to. If you squeeze [the pitch] well enough, you’re ready to go back a lot of the time.
“Vidic was one of the first people I noticed doing it [the side-on position], and I became obsessed with it over the years and still think about it every day. Someone passing the ball can change your body position so quickly. And maybe it’s quite natural to me now, but I probably do change my body shape a lot throughout the game.
“I think when you’re younger, you want to impress. You want to try and get tackles in. You overcommit at times. But sometimes being able to show someone with your body shape where you want to direct them – or force them to take a shot from a wider angle – sometimes that’s as good as defending as getting the tackle in.”