Valencia return adds to United’s creative edge

February 15, 2011 Tags: , Reads 14 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson delivered mixed news on the injury front today, with Antonio Valencia now training with the reserves ahead of a potential first team return in March but Park Ji-Sung now ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury. Bittersweet news of course, although the sum total could still mean his Manchester United team is better equipped for the Premier League and European run-in.

“We got a blow on Saturday morning with the news that Ji-sung Park did his hamstring on Friday afternoon in training,” confirmed the 69-year-old United manager.

“It was very unfortunate because it was his last kick of the ball in training as well. We were really looking forward to having him back after being away for a month at the Asian Cup. He’ll be out for up to a month, which is a blow to us.

“The good news is that Valencia started training with the Reserves on Saturday. So he’s on his way back and that will be a real boost to have him available for the run-in.”

Valencia’s return on schedule after the agonising leg break and ankle dislocation suffered against Rangers in September adds not only to Ferguson’s attacking options but the flexibility of United’s squad. The Ecuadorian’s pace, eye for goal and – perhaps crucially – potential to ignite Wayne Rooney into a goalscoring run could prove the difference come May.

After all, Valencia’s sound delivery from the right-wing in no small part contributed to Rooney’s 34-goal haul last season, with the former Evertonian scoring an uncanny number of headed goals.

That said, United’s ability to cope with Valencia’s absence this season is not in doubt; a permanent switch to the right has brought greater consistency to Nani’s game and Ryan Giggs’ evergreen presence has provided some stability on the left, even if Ferguson’s options are limited.

Meanwhile, Park’s injury reduces – at a minimum – Ferguson’s alternatives in midfield, especially in European away matches where the South Korean has tended to play in a ‘defensive attacking’ role. Park is no doubt a negative choice on United’s win, offering much less in attacking creative output that some of Ferguson’s alternatives. Yet, the 29-year-old remains a key defensive tool in Ferguson’s tactical planning.

Even with Valencia at his disposal Ferguson faces something of a tactical dilemma in the coming weeks, presuming the players returns to last season’s level of consistency. After all, Nani is thriving on the right-side of United’s midfield, not only scoring but creating too. Indeed, the Portuguese has hit the net 11 times this season, contributed 13 direct assists and been involved in the build up in 31 of United’s 32 Premier League goals when the 25-year-old has started. These are impressive statistics on any level.

Switching Nani to the left not only risks upsetting the player’s form but potentially unbalancing United’s attack in crucial matches away from home. Ferguson’s desire for United to never be outnumbered in midfield is paramount and in that context, it’ll be a brave move by the Scot to deploy both Nani and Valencia in key away fixtures against Marseille, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, presuming fitness on both players’ part.

Indeed, recent history says that the Scot will adopt a wholly negative approach in those games, seeking first and foremost to protect United’s four-point Premier League lead and even up the tactical battle against teams that will each deploy three men in central midfield.

Moreover, Park has played a crucial role in some of United’s biggest fixtures in recent seasons, such as the Reds’ two-legged victory over AC Milan this time last season.

Whatever the tactical choices, Valencia’s return is a personal triumph for the player, who has become both with United’s fans and in the dressing room. The former Wigan Athletic winger’s unassuming nature, initially seen as potentially inhibiting on the pitch, is heartily welcomed by supporters keen to see performances not ‘brand development’.

The players return comes with a word of warning though. Positive as the news surely is, it may still prove a long road. After all, neither Dion Dublin nor Alan Smith made it at Old Trafford following similar injuries. Neither had Valencia’s talent of course but in elite sport inherent talent is only one part of the picture.


ian - February 15, 2011 Reply

Yep, the key point is how soon, if ever, will he back up to speed. If he is, I see no problem with playing both Nani & Antonio;the latter is very reliable tracking back. You are right, Valencia not only puts balls into the zone but he is always looking to pick out a United player in the box. Nani is very two footed -& intelligent- so should have few problems on the left. We will miss the Park option. I know he doesn’t look like a proper footballer ON THE BALL but there are not too many in England who find space as well going forward & he works very hard tracking back.

mongoletsi - February 16, 2011 Reply

Nani is NOT “very too footed”. He can smack a half-decent shot with his left, but otherwise he switches to his right, cuts inside, etc etc.

I agree about Park.

triggs - February 15, 2011 Reply

If he’s lost his pace I fear for his future at the top level, as that was a huge part of his game. He has no real tricks, he’s just direct and very quick. Hopefully he’s still young enough to recover.

Although he can shoot and cross with either foot, Nani dribbles with his right so he is naturally balanced on the right side. However, he’s a far more confident and consistant player now compared to when he last played regularly on the left, so he may be able to adapt. Given that he seems to cut inside a lot, whatever side he’s on, he may prove more dangerous cutting in on his stronger foot.

Noticeable lack of injury news about a certain Owen Hargreaves.

redevil_83 - February 15, 2011 Reply

nani is 24 not 25

last season we played 451 for long stretches in 2nd half of season with nani and valencia flanking rooney so it is DEFINITELY possible SAF does the same in some of the upcoming big matches when there are 3 CMs.

united may play more cautiously in some games then others, but never adopts a ‘wholly negative’ approach that is not in united’s dna never has been. we always look to score vamos you red devils!

sidney - February 15, 2011 Reply

Will he be the same player
Will he still be as quick

mongoletsi - February 16, 2011 Reply

Will you ever use a question mark? 🙂

andrew - February 16, 2011 Reply

Got to at least try Nani on the left because of Valencia’s delivery of the final ball, pace and preparedness to track back but I’d hate to see Nani suffer because of it. Still need a proper left footed, left sided player though (not to mention a central mid who’s creative)…..

Barry Pepper - February 16, 2011 Reply

‘presuming the player returns to last season’s level of consistency’ – that’s a very big presumption considering the nature of the injury. How many players in recent memory have come back to anything near their previous level of performance – i’m thinking Smith, Eduardo, Ramsey. The answer is none, although Ramsey needs more time.

I certainly don’t think we’ll see the best of Valencia again until next season. At the moment, i couldn’t see him getting into the starting eleven anyway.

captainhormone - February 16, 2011 Reply

what he says is spot on

Sheesh - February 17, 2011 Reply

If valencia never recovers that pace he had before the injury, his united career will be over. That us my worry. I wish him all the best and hope the club can get him back to his optimum physical condition.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - February 19, 2011 Reply

i wouldnt mind if valenica was sold either way

sheesh - February 19, 2011 Reply

Yeah, and then Bebe will step up as his replacement.

han - February 19, 2011 Reply

whoever told saf to buy bebe is laughing all the way to the bank since he must have made 1 fuck of a load of commission on the deal – 8 million my fucking unclescunthead ffs

Carlynda - April 12, 2011 Reply

BION I’m impessred! Cool post!

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