ANTONIO VALENCIA’S RESURGENCE UNDER JOSE
Under David Moyes and most notably Louis Van Gaal, certain senior players in the Manchester United squad had underperformed. They had not been playing at their full potential and it was evident to see that the system and philosophy under the Dutchmen was having a negative effect on their performance.
Antonio Valencia was one of those players. Brought in from Wigan under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Ecuadorian was a wonderful right-wing player. Though he couldn’t use his left-foot effectively, Valencia would waltz past his opposite man and more often than not find his man in the box. He was a vital player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s late success.
New management came in and his form dropped drastically – the style of play he was used to changed and he was being used from right-wing to central midfield to right-back. Over the next few years he’d be playing all sorts of positions that he wasn’t accustomed to.
By now, under LVG, Valencia was being used as a right-back – somewhere he’d stay for good. At first, it was because of injuries and Valencia could defend in some capacity – although he was struggling comprehensively.
He wasn’t the best right-back at the club and there were signs of limited understanding in how a defensive line should be operated.
It wasn’t until José Mourinho walked into the job last summer where Valencia’s form skyrocketed. The Ecuadorian had a phenomenal pre-season with the Red Devils and has taken that into the new season.
It’s remarkable to think that Valencia was once a right-winger when looking at how comfortable he now looks in a back-four. The bonus to Manchester United is that they now have a right-back who isn’t afraid to overlap and bomb forward – and he also has an eye for goal.
That crossing technique had been failing Valencia for the past 3 years, but he’s now tuned in his right-foot and finding his target man.
Matteo Darmian was brought in after a successful 2014 World Cup with Italy. Successful on a personal note, not for the country. He had shone and United fans were rightfully excited about the ex-Torino player coming to Old Trafford.
He had started well and looked like he could hold the right-back position down for years to come. However, injuries had its toll and confidence beseeched him. Since under LVG, Darmian’s not regained the form he once had and his own self-esteem looks shot. It’s a shame because, technically, he’s a brilliant right-back, but it’s obvious to see that he’s a timid player on the pitch.
Valencia was called into action and hasn’t looked back. Mourinho’s getting the best out of the Ecuadorian and he’s enjoying his football. Just last Saturday, against Leicester City, Valencia was beautifully combining with Ander Herrera and Juan Mata to create space down the right-hand side.
Not to blow his own trumpet, but Valencia possesses the same abilities as Dani Alves. There’s a distinct difference in quality – obviously – but both of them play more as a right-wing than a right-back and excelled at going forward.
The Red Devils’s defence still needs work on, but there’s now stability down the right-hand side with Valencia in defence. He’s learnt the hard way but for an unorthodox right-back, the Ecuadorian has done fantastically well.