It feels quite difficult not to be blinded be all the razzmatazz that’s surrounding Manchester United at the moment. A Marouane Fellaini induced defeat at Goodison Park last night may have brought supporters back down to earth, but the summer additions of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa have certainly brought a bit of glitz and glamour back to Old Trafford.
The Hollywood high profile feel of these sorts of acquisition always create a nice sense of pre-season belief, but it’s important not to forget the components of an already successful team. Because there is one player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side who may not necessarily bestow the flair and high profile of some of his colleagues, but he isn’t half crucial to the team’s future prospects. Antonio Valencia is more industry than ingenious; but he must start games for United.
It was a refreshing sight to see that amongst the influx of talent at Manchester United this summer, there was still room for Antonio Valencia in the starting line-up at Everton last night. It did however, soon become very clear that the Ecuadorian was in the team more as emergency cover than essential winger, as his stint at right back suggested. But whilst he suffered a difficult evening at the hands of the marauding Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, his first-team prospects may strangely have been handed a boost.
Because for all United’s crisp passing and pretty patterns across the midfield, they failed to really create anything in the way of clear-cut chances. Now, before the sirens come out for media stirring and overreaction, you can’t read too much into the first game of the season; especially against a team as dogged and competitive as David Moyes’ Everton. But they were craving a more direct outlet last night or at least something a little more effective.
And they have the asset to do just that, although emergency right-back probably isn’t the most effective way to deploy him. Antonio Valencia is the quiet man of Old Trafford and his lack of baggage and fuss is perhaps testament to a Premier League profile that is often overshadowed by the likes of Nani and Ashley Young. Valencia gets on with the job and does it effectively. No rubbish, no whining and little theatrics. Just an outstanding work ethic and one of the most wicked deliveries in the league.
It’s always been like that since day one of Valencia’s Old Trafford career. He was brought in amongst a strangely muted atmosphere at Manchester United in 2009, following the £80miilion departure of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, and expectations for the new season were somewhat mixed. Despite the gifted talent of the man that had just departed, Valencia is of course a completely different package to the Portuguese, but that didn’t necessarily stop him being labeled as a replacement.
But Valencia got his head down and stuck to his game, paying dividends for both Manchester United and Wayne Rooney in particular, during his first term in Manchester. United narrowly lost out to Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea for the Premier League title during the 2009-10 term, but Valencia played his part, contributing seven goals and 11 assists in all competitions. The biggest benefactor was Rooney, who owed Valencia more than a few drinks as the winger played a key part in helping the Englishman net 34 goals in all competitions during his real breakthrough season as a goal scorer. Valencia didn’t showcase the sort of showboating or goal scoring talents of his predecessor, but it didn’t matter- his game is about effectiveness and he proved that in abundance.
Even last season, as Sir Alex Ferguson swooped for the services of Ashley Young, some still raised question marks about Valencia’s ability to survive in a squad that boasted both Young and Nani. But the statistics speak for themselves. Valencia knocked up 13 assists in the Premier League last season, second only to David Silva’s tally of 15 for eventual champions, Manchester City. Nani may be more of a match winner, but Valencia is perhaps the more consistent outlet with his almost industrial levels of performance.
He needs to add more goals to his game, but his role is as that of the provider, not the show stealer. His game is built around selflessness- he puts in the sort of tireless shifts defensively that his rivals would baulk at; look no further than Fergie’s decision to start with him in the Champions League final against Barcelona for evidence. But it’s his delivery that is the centerpiece of his game. In a league where we so often talk about the fabled notion of end-product, Valencia has it in abundance and he has produced the goods time and time again. His explosive pace and imposing strength catalyze the wonderful craft of his right foot. No need for step overs and no need for messing around- just a truly scintillating ball into the box.
And this is what Manchester United have to ensure they keep in their starting XI. Sir Alex has a lot of options in midfield now, but he can’t become too seduced by the aesthetically pleasing passing game or creating his own ‘carousel’ as he likes to call it. They need a cutting edge to compliment the craft. Shinji Kagawa is a wonderful prospect but he’s no wide player and his success at Borussia Dortmund came in a far more central role. Balancing the team is an art but there is one man who could prosper more than any from Valencia’s presence in the team.
When you sign a 30-goal-a-season striker, you need to give him the best possible service you have available. Valencia was, as already mentioned, a crucial component in eeking goals out of Wayne Rooney when he started playing higher up the pitch. There’s no reason why he can’t repeat the trick with Van Persie. Young and Nani are both creative outlets and they offer perhaps a more dynamic option to Sir Alex on the flanks. But surely the best bet in terms of getting the best out of Robin van Persie is plumping for the Ecuadorian.
Robin van Persie harnessethe sort of firepower that can see Manchester United back as Premier League champions again. But he’s not going to be able to do it all on his own. But be it Van Persie and Rooney up front together, Rooney just behind, or even Danny Welbeck for that matter, the purest choice of winger to get the most out of your attack must be Antonio Valencia.
Manchester United host Fulham this Saturday at Old Trafford and it’ll be interesting to see if Ferguson will maintain his faith in Valencia. Let’s just hope he’s played a little bit further up the pitch this weekend.
How do you feel about the role Valencia has to play in the United team this season? Guarenteed starter or forever in Nani & Young’s shadow? Let me know how you’d get the best out of Van Persie on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tweet me your line-up.