Sir Alex Ferguson is a hard man to please, it would seem. Not overly impressed with seeing his Manchester United side put five past an admittedly abject Wolves side on Sunday, and for the time being, move four points clear of Manchester City, the Scot described Sunday’s stroll as ‘adequate’.
"The scoreline makes it look comprehensive, it wasn't really, but our finishing was good," said Ferguson drolly, flexing his muscles in the direction of a Manchester City side that must play hosts to Chelsea in mid-week and win in order to keep the pressure up their rivals.
While Ferguson may point to his side’s excellent finishing that proved to be the downfall of Wolves, who played much of the game with ten men, it speaks volumes that now United’s traditional push for the title has come, those who make the goals are coming to the fore.
At the start of December United trailed behind their cross-city rivals in the goal difference column, not to mention in the points total; City had scored 17 more goals to establish their five point gap at the top of the table on December 1.
Fast forward to the final whistle of Sunday’s game and United had done more than close that gap. They now enjoy a four goal advantage in the goals scored column and while their inferior goals against tally puts them behind City in terms of overall goal difference, United are the first team in Premier League history to pass the 70 goals mark at this stage of the season.
While it has been Wayne Rooney’s excellent goal-scoring form that has won the plaudits of late, Antonio Valencia’s outstanding form deserves credit.
The Ecuadorian winger has picked up 11 assists (his entire tally for the season), three goals and three man of the match awards in that time; making him the Premier League’s second highest provider of goals behind the celebrated David Silva and one of United’s greatest assets.
Ferguson himself accepts that much of United’s hopes of securing their 20th league title rests on Valencia’s shoulders as it does the likes of Rooney and Paul Scholes.
"He could be very important," he said. "His form before he got the injury was outstanding.
"Now he is back we hope he stays back fit. He is such an honest, hardworking player.
"You get two sides to Antonio. He is prepared to work really hard. He can tackle, he can run, but he can also beat a man. He has got everything really."
Valencia, as Ferguson acknowledges, is close to a complete player. Against Wolves, United’s finishing was excellent, but the directness the former Wigan man offered in picking up his two assists put the pressure on Terry Connor's creaking side and made the crack.
Often the adage that a team is harder to beat when it goes down to ten men holds true – not when a player such as Valenica is on hand to serve up treats for Rooney and Javier Hernandez to feast off of.
Ferguson, so often full of praise for Valencia, sees the winger as the perfect balance between his right wing options.
While Nani offers an excellent creative source going forward his cover for his team-mate at full-back is suspect while Park Ji-Sung, often deployed on European nights when solidarity is the name of the game, looks to be a waning force.
Valencia’s energy, hustle and bustle add a pace to United’s attack Ferguson is keen to see more of, while his work rate in both directions make him an extremely valuable member of his illustrious manager’s squad.
The 26-year-old’s recent return from an injury blip will no doubt help United turn the screw on City.
His other team-mates will continue to receive the plaudits while he continues to plug away, but there is no doubt that, on current form,Valencia is one of United’s leading lights.
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