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Can Timothy Fosu-Mensah become the heir to Antonio Valencia…

The 2017/18 Premier League season is reaching its climax, and if you were to make a shortlist of players to win the Player of The Year award for Manchester United, Antonio Valencia would be a decent shout. He has been one of the few players who are always the first name on the team sheet, alongside David De Gea, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku this season, and rightly so.

Valencia has had a very good season defensively and has scored a couple of screamers to boot. Nonetheless, it is time to look ahead, not only due to Valencia’s age (he turns 33 in August this year), but also due to a fatal weakness in his game, his inability to vary his crosses.

This has greatly hurt United, adding to the fact that Young plays on the other side of the defence, and a first-time cross behind the opposition’s back line has not been seen since Luke Shaw last bombed forward in Louis van Gaal’s first season prior to his injury.

Many a time this season, when Valencia has found himself one-v-one with the opposition’s fullback, he has either opted to pass back to the right-winger, or pass square to the oncoming midfielder in front of the box; on the rare occasion, he knocks it past the player and smashes a low, hard cross.

None of this plays to the strengths of United’s marquee summer signing, Romelu Lukaku, who thrives on crosses into the box, leaving him a disgruntled figure in the middle of the box, having to bring himself back from an offside position.

United need to solve this issue this summer and may not have to look further than one of their own, in Timothy Fosu-Mensah, on loan at Crystal Palace.

Fosu-Mensah is having a very successful loan spell at Crystal Palace, who made a nightmare start to the season, now finding themselves just above the drop zone. He lost his place in the first team after Frank De Boer was sacked but has clawed his way back in under Roy Hodgson.

He has predominantly played as a right back, and in almost equal part, as a right-sided centre-back in a three-man defence. What Fosu-Mensah has in common with Valencia, is his physique. He is very quick and strong and is only 20, yet to fill out his frame.

Fosu-Mensah is a very good tackler of the ball, having won 49% of all his tackles, as compared to Valencia’s 32%. But it can also play against him at times, leading him into unnecessary challenges, but it is interesting to note that he has five fewer yellow cards than Valencia this season, while having played six fewer matches. Infer what you will.

Fosu-Mensah also has a very good passing range and has consistently found Palace’s target man, Christian Benteke, with a long ball from deep in defence.

Fosu-Mensah’s biggest weapon, though, is his age. Having begun his career as a defensive midfielder who can also play at right-back, he is slowly finding himself attuned to that role, and may well find his future at United at that spot.

Does he solve all of United’s problems? No, he does not. But what he does do, is provide United with a solid option, somebody who can replace Valencia, and possibly, be more.

At his age, it is not impossible to inculcate things which are not part of your game at the moment, and under the right mentorship and given the chances and the trust of the manager, Fosu-Mensah could prove to be an invaluable addition to United’s squad next season.

Written by Dheeraj Santhosh

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