Antonio Valencia is a player who divides opinion amongst Manchester United fans and football pundits alike. The player, surprisingly signed from Wigan Athletic by Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, had a blistering start to his time at United.
His physical, direct approach endeared him almost immediately to the Old Trafford faithful as his of strength and blistering pace helped him make the right wing his own and fill, to some extent, the gigantic boots left behind by the enigmatic Portuguese. In all truth many fans were bemused at the suggestion at the suggestion that Valencia could fill even one of Ronaldo’s boots, let alone the two of them.
A change in formation from a 4-3-3 that favoured his predecessor to a 4-4-2 followed and Valencia had a decent return in his first season. Seven goals and 13 assists followed that first campaign and Valencia was proving to be a tormentor of Premier League full-backs.
After missing out on most of the 2010/11 season due to injury, Antonio Valencia came back to score four goals and add 13 assists, providing United with most of the few moments of
flair their offence produced in a season that ended with heartache courtesy of one Sergio Aguero.
His assists in that season began to draw attention, especially his almost telepathic combination and understanding with Wayne Rooney, as the two of them combined for eight goals in a row in almost exactly similar fashion. It was always a cross from Valencia and a header from Rooney. ‘Ronaldo who?’ banners started being spotted in and around Old Trafford, something very few would have thought possible so soon. Valencia was voted player of the year as United fans recognised his efforts. However, things have been less glamorous ever since.
Valencia has struggled to replicate that early, promising form of late. His past two seasons have been less than average as his output from the wing has dramatically dipped. Valencia has had his fitness problems but that is not why the Ecuadorian has been average and flat. Valencia has been found out. Opposition full-backs have learned him and consequently anticipate his every move. Valencia is a one trick pony, he cannot dribble, he always goes
out to his right and very rarely, (if ever), cuts inside on his weaker left foot. Initially, it worked perfectly because he took defenders by surprise, when they would normally be up against tricky, dribbling wingers in most league matches; Valencia was a totally different proposition. He would take a full-back on direct, using his immense strength and explosive pace to power past defenders and cross. Nine times out of 10, he was successful. Not any more.
Full-backs learn wingers, especially in the Premier League. For one to succeed as a winger in the league you must always keep the defenders guessing, re-invent your style and always try to add new things to your game. All the great wingers have done that- from George Best to Gianfranco Zola to David Beckham and Ryan Giggs to Cristiano Ronaldo. All these players kept developing their skill sets throughout their times and this is what Valencia has, unfortunately for United, failed to do. He always does the same thing, just like sunrise and sunset, you could commentate without looking what Valencia is probably doing when faced with a full-back.
David Moyes really should be affording Wilfried Zaha more playing time. Aside from Nani, he s the one player you could bet on to take a player on and beat them with skill and trickery. He already has that bullish, youthful Cristiano Ronaldo-esque aura about him and it is sad that he has not played much this season. United are struggling to break down teams because there really isn’t much coming out of the wide areas. Valencia rarely beats his man, cannot use his left foot to save his life and more often than not, drills his crosses low and hard, without them ever getting past the first central defender. United need more - they need better and Antonio Valencia certainly is not giving either of those.
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