It has been a difficult 12 months for Wayne Rooney, but the sight of Antonio Valencia returning to action at Old Trafford on Saturday has put a big smile on the Manchester United striker's face.
Amid the hand-wringing over Rooney's extended loss of form, the absence of Valencia has largely been overlooked. The ankle injury Valencia suffered against Rangers in September was equally significant with the Ecuador winger a major source of goals for Rooney last term and without him, Rooney had managed just eight before Saturday's FA Cup win over Arsenal.
Although Valencia was only a bit-part player, the pair were on the field together for less than five minutes before the 25-year-old added a ninth. And Rooney said: "I can't tell you how good it is to see him back out there. It's fantastic for him and fantastic for us to have him back and playing the way he did."
He added: "It was Antonio's first game back after six months out and he looked like he'd never been away."
Given the gashed leg Nani suffered at Liverpool will keep him out of Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Marseille, if not the Premier League duel against fellow semi-finalists Bolton next weekend, more is likely to be required of Valencia at Old Trafford this week.
And the same is also true of Edwin van der Sar, who is enjoying a sensational end to his career.
The 40-year-old Dutchman made half a dozen superb saves against Arsenal, ensuring what could easily have been a defeat actually turned into a comfortable win against United's greatest title challengers, who left to lick their wounds after a thoroughly miserable fortnight.
Little wonder the Stretford End was urging Sir Alex Ferguson to persuade Van der Sar to extend his career by one more season, a demand Rooney did his bit to try and satisfy after the final whistle, even if it met with a negative response.
"The players are trying to persuade Edwin to stay on too," Rooney added. "I was speaking to him in the shower afterwards but it is his decision and we have to respect it.
"He is such a great goalkeeper. Despite his age he is still the best keeper in the world."
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