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Antonio Valencia for Manchester United Player of the Season?

Antonio Valencia has been a consistent performer as José Mourinho’s first choice right back throughout the 16/17 season. With a 7.23 whoscored rating, Valencia is firmly in the running to pick up his second Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season award.

With the David De Gea three season monopoly of the award surely coming to an end, alongside Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ander Herrera, Eric Bailly and fellow South American, Marcos Rojo, United’s number 25 is in line to repeat his 2012 success by picking up the honour at the end of May.

The Ecuadorian international has featured 43 times already this campaign at the age of 31. His mix of pace and strength makes him the perfect modern full back, equally adept at both defending and attacking.

Defensive contribution

In fact, he has been a key part of the second-best defence in the Premier League this season. Recently called the best right back in the world by his manager, Mourinho clearly appreciates the big part the ex-Villarreal man has played in maintaining Manchester United’s defensive stability this season.

“I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

His pace has enabled the former Wigan Athletic winger to be sharp enough to have blocked the most passes of any United player in the league (40), eight more than the next best, Ander Herrera. While he has also made the second most successful tackles, 67, behind Herrera, 82.

Attacking contribution

While going forward Valencia has chipped in with five assists, including the great cross for Zlatan Ibrahimović’s late Community Shield winner in August. While the Swede also profited from Valencia’s pull back to rescue a point and the unbeaten run against Liverpool in January. He even ended his three-year goal scoring drought in March, after chasing down ex-red Victor Valdes, who slipped to allow Valencia to tap home into an empty Middlesbrough net.

Captain

With 89 caps for his country and over 200 appearances for United, Valencia is one of the most experienced players in the United dressing room. This experience was crucial in the first leg of the Europa League Semi-Final against Celta Vigo, when Valencia was handed the captain’s armband for the first time, highlighting the trust Mourinho has in his right back. His newfound leadership was matched by his performance in Northern Spain, as he reached the top of the UEFA Performance Zone rankings for full-backs. Overtaking Celta captain Hugo Mallo and rising to seventh in the overall standings.

History

Having won the award in 2012 following a fantastic season playing as a winger, scoring an iconic goal of the season at Blackburn, Valencia was given the number seven shirt. This triggered a downturn in form. But since returning to the number 25, he has rebuilt his reputation, mastering a new position. His physique has complimented his transformation into a strong, but fast defender and while Louis van Gaal seemed to prefer his signing Matteo Darmian, the Ecuadorian has been Mourinho’s choice for all the big games this season.

Mourinho’s admiration for Valencia stretches back to his time at Real Madrid. The Portuguese manager said, “I wanted him to play at right-back (for Real Madrid)”, even when he was still a winger at Old Trafford. Despite the move to Spain not materialising, Mourinho now has his man and is delighted with his contribution this season.

Overall

Whether Antonio Valencia wins player of the season remains to be seen, with other candidates like Zlatan Ibrahimović also deserving of the award. But no matter what, the Ecuadorian has had a fantastic campaign which has seen him become Manchester United’s, the Premier League’s and possibly even the world’s best right back.

The voting for Player of the Season has now opened and fans can now vote for their favourite here.

Written by Ben Lyons

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