Nani v Valencia

This season we may not have seen a ‘vintage Manchester United side’ * but we have been treated to two of the world’s most exciting wingers raiding down the flanks and providing some of the most exciting football any league has to offer.

As the season started it seemed as though United would be in for the Nani and Tony V show as both fine haired individuals picked up where they left off last season by terrorising defences with the sort of skills their fine barnets deserved.

However an horrific injury during the Champions League qualifier against Rangers at Old Trafford for Antonio Valencia, that was so bad it made the Scottish players go all pale, well paler, meant that Ecuador’s finest was out for the majority of the campaign.

Valencia’s injury wasn’t the knockout blow it could have been for United as September to March was the Nani show as Portugal’s greatest actor gave the sort of bravado displays which Portugal’s other gifted performer would have been proud of. When he wasn’t dancing past wingers or scoring stunning goals with either foot, Mr Da Cunha was entertaining us with the sort of theatrics that Lord Olivier himself would have been proud of.

Nani’s assists, goals and sheer brilliance left many defences in awe and put him firmly in the ‘world class match winner’ category. Even his critics had to admit that for all the rolling about and crocodile tears there was the sort of skills mere mortals could only dream of. Ask any fan in England whether they’d take Nani’s faults in exchange for his positives and you’d be hard pressed to find one- at least an honest one-that wouldn’t want him at their club.

Nani’s the sort of player you simply have to play, even when he’s having a bad spell as he’s always capable of producing something magical to win the game.

The best thing about Nani- at least for me,- is that he genuinely believes he’s the best player on the planet and sometimes you need someone like that in the side.

Don’t get me wrong if he had the pace of Emile Heskey, mixed with the skill of Emile Heskey and the finishing of ooh I don’t know, someone like Emile Heskey, then all the belief in the world wouldn’t make him better than say, Peter Crouch. But Nani’s belief is born from the fact he is actually an amazingly talented footballer, better than 99.9% of players in the world. He may be greedy at times and shoot almost constantly on occasion but there’s the strong chance that one of his 34 shots during a game will end up buried in the back of the net.

Nani along with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and this site’s pick for player of the year Chicharito, provided the goals that carried United to the top of the league where they would stay for practically the whole season.

With the sort of two footed ability that had the imbeciles on Match of the Day debating which was his stronger foot- which one does he take set pieces with lads- Nani was the player opposing fans loved to hate.

Just as Nani seemed as though he was going to be the main reason for United’s success in a strange twist of fate, an injury via a disgraceful challenge by that fine specimen of facial beauty Jamie Carragher put him out of action just as Valencia was returning to the fray.

Any doubts that Valencia would be the same player he was prior to his injury were well founded as he quite frankly wasn’t. He was actually even better. Valencia’s return caused a collective groan from United’s opposition as he duly picked up where he left off, steaming down the wing and delivering inch perfect crosses for Rooney to dispatch with ease. I almost felt sorry for Ashley Cole in the second leg of the Champions League at Old Trafford when with his side down to ten men he looked at the dugout and saw Valencia coming on. I hasten to add I did say ‘almost.’

While Valencia hasn’t been as consistent as he probably would have liked in the past few weeks on the whole he’s been brilliant. Nani on the other hand seems to have gone off the boil slightly. Whether it’s the fact he’s now been moved over to the left almost exclusively, denying him the ease of using his stronger foot, or simply running out of a bit of steam, he hasn’t been hitting the heights he was a few months ago.

The problem is, and I say problem as for the Champions League final I feel it may give Sir Alex Ferguson something of a headache. Nani as I said earlier is always capable of producing something special that can win a match. Dropping him may be the difference between defeat and victory.

So why not play both I hear you cry? Valencia and Nani down each wing, would give even Barcelona cause for concern, Dani Alves, Adriano or whoever would have a job handling either of them.

Well there’s one simple reason why playing both may be the football equivalent of inviting Adele round for Sunday dinner: Ji Sung Park. Park’s been a revelation this season and was sorely missed when he went away to the Aldi Cup. Thankfully he returned in fine form –eventually- to help spur United on in both the Premier and Champions league. Dropping Park in favour of Nani or Valencia would be risky to say the least.

There’s always the chance Fergie could use Park centrally but I very much doubt it, he seems to prefer him on the left with Giggs playing more central alongside Michael Carrick.

Park surely has to play, which means that either Nani or Valencia doesn’t. The smart money’s on Valencia starting as he’s more inclined to do his share of defensive duties while Nani sometimes seems about has happy to track back as your average man would be watching a double episode of The Only Way is Essex.

Nani’s nothing if not a match winner and could he have the same impact as a substitute or would he do what he sometimes does when brought on late in the game and simply shoot even more than usual and be even more greedy?

Valencia’s been amazing since his return and has not only given Rooney something of a boost but seems to have elevated the entire team somewhat. With Fabio, Rafael and John O’Shea all having their faults when it comes to defending you’d think Fergie would want to give them maximum help which should mean Tony V.

However when you’re facing the ‘greatest club side ever’* it may be taking a chance that wins you the game and starting with the livewire that is Nani could be the key to achieving what many believe** impossible

So who would you start for the game? Or would you risk both at the expense of Park or even Giggs? Comment below please:

*copyright British media.

** copyright Manchester United fans.

Read more of Justin’s articles at Red Flag Flying High