Antonio Valencia scored and put in a lively performance during his first outing for Manchester United since an £18 million move from Wigan Athletic this summer. The Ecuadorian winger, who was left out of the Asian tour to concentrate on fitness work back in Manchester, was a constant threat from the right wing in United’s 2-1 victory over Boca Juniors in Munich this evening.
While it’s early days in the winger’s United career, Valencia’s performance is a major bonus for Sir Alex Ferguson after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer. Looking every bit the old fashioned winger, Valencia hugged the touchline and was a constant menace to his opposing full-back, before being substituted with about 25 minutes remaining.
“I think he will figure in many games,” Sir Alex said after the game. “It was his first game. For his first game, we are very satisfied. He is a good athlete, has good power and running ability, as we saw today with the way he created a good goal. Maybe it was a mistake by the goalkeeper, but he created the opportunity and opened up spaces for himself.”
The questions now are, can Valencia perform against better opposition than Boca and can he maintain a scoring rate better than the 1 in 10 he managed at Wigan?
“We know that when you look at his record at Wigan it is not good in terms of goals,” Ferguson told reporters after the match. “He knows that too, but when we assess the individual parts of his game, his athleticism and the power in his shooting, then why should he not score more goals?
The wide-man’s strike today came after beating two defenders and shooting low into the corner, although Boca ‘keeper Abbondanzieri will be disappointed with effort. It could be a sign of good things to come.
United’s 4-4-2 system in pre-season is almost certainly a signal towards a more compact formation this season. With Valencia deployed wide-right and Ji-Sung Park on the opposite flank, United played in a slightly more rigid fashion than with Ronaldo in the team. But it was always going to be impossible to replace the Portuguese maestro’s ability to be two players in one.
Ferguson’s move to deploy two players through the middle makes sense given the strikers at his disposal this season. All four of his principal forwards prefer to work in central areas, with Rooney consistent in his summer demand to move back to his old role.
Recognising that Dimitar Berbatov was largely forced into an unfamiliar role last season, Ferguson told The Telegraph today he “expected the form that we have seen from Berbatov so far in pre-season. Last season was a strange one for him and maybe we didn’t use him in the right way.
“But we know exactly how to use him now, further up the pitch, playing as a centre-forward. I really think Berbatov will have a terrific season for us.”
If that really is the case then United’s pre-season programme is as much about finding out which pairs work best together, as it is about fitness. With Rooney likely to fulfill his England role as a shadow striker to Berbatov’s front-man, does that relegate Michael Owen and Federico Macheda to a supporting role? It may do, but Owen’s goalscoring form and the continued progression of Macheda are very positive signs for the season ahead.
The worry for United is in central midfield and the left wing. Can one of Nani, Tosic or Park make the left his own in pre-season? Unless an unlikely move for Valencia’s David Silva materialises, then somebody will have to. In central midfield both Anderson – who scored a brilliant free-kick today – and Michael Carrick can expect to start the season. But Darren Fletcher will also have an important role to play by providing solidity in the centre of the park, especially away from home. But United still lacks a true defensive midfielder. Owen Hargreaves cannot return fast enough.