Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Player of the Month Valencia's impressive positional evolution

Antonio Valencia was named our November Player of the Month and he has completed his positional evolution is style. 

He missed only three matches after suffering the nasty blow of a broken arm in the League Cup win over City and his rapid return from an injury that should have kept him out for months was testament to his athleticism, bravery and unstinting determination. 

He has been arguably our Player of the Season so far, and the brilliance of his personal campaign was encapsulated at Anfield. 
Roberto Firmino found himself clean through but Valencia read the danger superbly and threw himself in the way of the Brazilian with a sublime last ditch challenge. 

Eyebrows were raised when the Ecuadorian was first picked at right-back but he is now among the best in the league in the position, right up there with the likes of Nathaniel Clyne, Kyle Walker and Hector Bellerin. 

Five years on from his first defensive outing (under Sir Alex in a League Cup tie at Leeds), there is a compelling case to be made that our number 25 is no longer "makeshift" and that he's a bona-fide right-back, with Tim Fosu-Mensah and Matteo Darmian both behind him in Jose's positional pecking order.

His pace and power down the right gives United width and he has claimed six assists so far this season, making a mockery of the claim that he lacks end product.
He set up Jesse Lingard against Feyenoord and also created Anthony Martial's second goal against West Ham in the ELF Cup.
Despite a broken foot that ruled him out from October to March,  and the exciting emergence of Fosu-Mensah, he came back strongly and Lingard's winner in the Cup final stemmed from Valencia's burst from deep. 

Valencia was used at right-back on the odd occasion in an emergency under Sir Alex and his subsequent predecessors David Moyes and Giggsy but it was LVG who had the biggest influence on his change of role. 
Van Gaal quickly dispensed with the services of the rash and sometimes reckless Rafael Da Silva and converted the Ecuadorian from a traditional winger to a reliable and steady full-back.

In contrast to his sporadic defensive outings under Ferguson, Moyes and Giggs, he never started as a winger under Van Gaal and only once played in a relatively attack-minded role under the Dutchman, on the right of a midfield diamond against Everton in 2014. 

The situation is curious: he is touted as one of the game's eminent full-backs without publicly acknowledging himself as one. 
His positional switch has been one of the smoother transitions of the turbulent post-Ferguson era and it's clear that Jose sees Valencia as the right man to be right-back.

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