Nani key to Manchester United title challenge

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A £17million acquisition from Sporting Lisbon during the summer of 2007, Portuguese winger Nani has been on quite a rollercoaster ride since joining Manchester United.

Hailing from Sporting Lisbon's youth academy - the same place Cristiano Ronaldo learnt his trade - Nani had a trophy-laden first season at United, winning both the Champions League and the Premier League with the Red Devils. The diminutive winger showed glimpses of his talent on many occasions during his first season with the club, but it was in the 2009/10 season that the 26-year-old really came to the fore.

The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid meant more playing time for the Cape Verde-born winger, allowing Nani to step out of his former teammates shadow and make a name for himself in his own right. Nani, into his third season at United, was starting to display his true worth. The following season was even better, with Nani playing an important part in United's title-winning side.

The Portuguese international continued his good form in the 2011/12 season too, although the season ended on a sour note for the red side of Manchester as United were pipped to the league title by bitter rivals Manchester City in virtually the last kick of the season.

However, despite scoring a number of goals and providing a hatful of assists during his five-year stint at Old Trafford, Nani's career at United has been marred by his inability to perform at a consistent level - a trait that has left him open to criticism from the United fans.

This season, United have had a very good start to their campaign, sitting at the top of the table, seven points ahead of their nearest rivals Manchester City. Having safely secured their passage into the knockout stages of the Champions League, things are looking good for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, apart from some defensive shortcomings. However, another problem area that needs to be addressed is the lacklustre form of United's wingers.

Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have failed to impress this season, although the latter has missed a large chunk of the campaign due to injury. In fact, I would even go as far as saying they have been disappointing at times, especially Valencia. The right-footed Ecuadorian was awarded with the number 7 shirt that was made famous by the likes of George Best, David Beckham and Eric Cantona who all wore it before him. Yet, Valencia has failed to live up to the hype and his performances have so far fallen short of what is expected from anyone who wears that shirt.

The fact that none of Ferguson's wide players have made the wide berth their own this season means that United's boss has often resorted to playing a diamond formation in midfield. Nani, who is currently out with a hamstring injury, should be given another opportunity to force his way back into the first-team picture, as he has proved in the past that he is more than capable of making an impact.

Yet recent reports in the media have suggested that Nani, who had a bust-up with United's young midfielder Davide Petrucci in September, is on the verge of leaving the club after failing to agree terms over a new contract. There is often no smoke without fire, and I can't help but think that allowing Nani to leave in January, particularly to a rival, would be a big mistake and one that could come back to haunt Ferguson and United.

Hopefully, Sir Alex will bring the 26-year-old out from the cold as soon as he has recovered from his latest injury setback. Nani can be the man to provide the ammunition to the likes of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, as United look to reclaim the Premier League title. Despite having a plethora of striking options, United have been lacking Nani's flair on the wings in recent times, and his creative spark could push the Reds across the finishing line.

Last season, City turned to Carlos Tevez in a bid to kick-start a late season surge, eventually going on to win their first ever Premier League title. With United comfortably leading the way at the top of the table during the festive period, they could do with a fresh pair of legs in the second half of the campaign to help keep up their early season form.

In short, Nani could hold the key to United's season.

Premier League
Manchester United
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