Manchester United have been suffering issues on the flanks all season, with the form of Nani, Ashley Young and in particular Antonio Valencia a cause for concern. Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford saw the Ecuadorian put in a dreadful performance having entered the fray on the stroke of half time.
It is a far cry from last season, when United played some excellent attacking football that was given its thrust from out wide. Valencia was decorated with the club’s player of the season award and was an exciting and direct outlet on the right wing, almost inspiring his side to the Premier League title. This time round the 27-year-old has looked a shadow of his former self, and is no longer the automatic pick he was in the last campaign.
Sir Alex Ferguson once again named Valencia on the substitutes bench against Chelsea in favour of Nani, but the Portuguese injured his hamstring and was forced off. The second half showing from his replacement was poor and highly frustrating, and even drew voicings of discontent from the Old Trafford faithful, which is a very rare occurrence. The club’s supporters are clearly disappointed with the form of a man who was bestowed with the honour of United’s famous No 7 shirt in the summer.
It has been suggested that Valencia has been carrying hip and back injuries since early on in the season, which could be a reason for what appears to be a loss of the electrifying pace that illuminates his game. He rarely takes apart his full-back at the moment as he once did, with a lack of confidence in his body perhaps twinned with a deterioration in his self-belief as his search for form drags on.
The combination with Rafael da Silva on the right flank ought to be an exciting prospect and a nightmare for opposition defences – two speedy South Americans that can both attack and defend, dovetailing with each other to provide opportunities for finishers such as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. However the reality is that while Rafael has flourished this season, Valencia is increasingly becoming a cause for concern.
A player who cost United in the region of £16 million pounds in the summer of 2009 following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid appears to have lost his mojo. He seems slow on the ball and devoid of ideas when trying to move forward. It is significant that United fans are now reacting badly to the mistakes of a man that quickly became much-loved on the terraces following his move from Wigan.
Valencia’s fellow wingers have hardly stepped up to the plate as their teammate flounders, with Nani perennially erratic with his own form, and Ashley Young failing to live up to the early expectations that he set himself in his Old Trafford career. This has contributed to a sustained utilisation of Danny Welbeck out wide, who has impressed at times in this role.
Rumours of a Ronaldo return have abounded recently, but one player that is certain to be coming in for next season is Wilfried Zaha, who will initially provide competition for a place on either flank. United’s team is crying out for an injection of creativity on the wings, and the young Englishman could be the man to supply it.
The current crop of Old Trafford wide men must improve dramatically as the season enters it’s final stages, lest Ferguson deems them surplus to requirements come the summer’s transfer window.
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