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Could Timothy Fosu-Mensah succeed Antonio Valencia at right-back?

Manchester United fans will be used to the sight of Antonio Valencia speeding down the right-wing, him out-muscling opponents and scoring a stunning goal every now and again. Fans will hope that the Ecuadorian defender, who signed for the Reds back in 2009, will have at least a few seasons left at Old Trafford, however, speculation has already started over who could replace the right-back. Manchester United is a squad full of international superstars and talent, but it seems likely that on-loan 20-year-old Timothy Fosu-Mensah will be Valencia’s heir at right-back.

Fosu-Mensah signed for the Manchester United youth team back in 2014, after eight years at Ajax, in his native Holland. Fans may not be too familiar with Fosu-Mensah, but he has already racked up 21 senior appearances for the Reds across multiple competitions. Fosu-Mensah has even been capped for the Netherlands, appearing twice for them in 2017, meaning that he does have some experience of playing on the world stage.

In his first season in the United senior team, Fosu-Mensah’s statistics were admirable, as he had a tackle success of 92% in the league, respectable for any player let alone a teenager-making their debut in the Premier League. His good record continued into the 2016/17 season, as he kept one clean sheet in four league appearances. Fosu-Mensah’s statistics are undeniably impressive for a teenage defender starting out and learning the ways of the Premier League.

Admittedly his position in the United senior team for these two seasons was precarious (given the competition he faced for the right-back position) and he didn’t clock up as many appearances as he would have perhaps liked, but it is worth remembering the relative instability and unsettled nature of the United squad in what was Van Gaal’s last season as manager and Mourinho’s first. Fosu-Mensah was mostly used to fill-in when other players weren’t available, but nonetheless performed admirably when eventually given the chance.

In the summer of 2017 Fosu-Mensah was loaned out to Crystal Palace for a season, where it was thought he would be guaranteed regular first-team football and could therefore build on his experience. As predicted Fosu-Mensah has played regularly for Crystal Palace since joining them. He has become a regular at right-back, making 16 league appearances for the London side so far. His statistics have remained good in the league, with a tackle success rate of 80% and over 70 clearances for Palace in the league, a very encouraging statistic for a young defender.

Fosu-Mensah has only managed two clean sheets in his 16 league appearances, but given the trouble Palace were in at the start of the season (and to an extent continues now,) when new manager Frank De Boer was sacked within a matter of games, this statistic can be explained. Fosu-Mensah was praised particularly for his performance against league leaders Manchester City in late December.

The game finished 0-0, with Palace being the first team not to concede against City this season and saw Fosu-Mensah voted as Fan’s Man of the Match and given the Sky Sports Man of the Match Award for his performance which was an encouraging sign for any United fan. Fosu-Mensah’s time at Palace will undoubtedly be useful for the young defender as his career progresses. He has registered appearances in all three domestic competitions and continues to gain experience that is invaluable in the Premier League today.

He is proving himself at Palace to be a strong and reliable option (and sometimes their star player) and Mourinho and United fans will need to be able to count on him to be both strong and reliable when he returns to Old Trafford.

Fosu-Mensah’s statistics and performances compare well with the man whom he could possibly replace. Though Valencia has managed more league appearances (20) than the 20-year-old defender, his tackle success rate is 57%, not as high as Fosu-Mensah’s, perhaps suggesting that the Dutch Player’s defensive qualities are more consistent than those of Valencia. Fosu-Mensah’s clean sheets tally does not compare as favourably with Valencia’s, with the Ecuadorian Captain keeping 12 clean sheets in the league.

However, this can arguably be explained by the fact that Valencia is playing alongside a considerably better defense than Fosu-Mensah is. Valencia does outrank the 20-year-old in one key area though. This season he has managed three league goals and even won United’s 2017 Goal of the Year Award for his incredible goal against Everton, whilst Fosu-Mensah has failed to score across his three seasons playing in the Premier League.

Though a right-back is admittedly not expected to top the goal scoring charts, Valencia’s goals and attacking capabilities have become one of the best-loved and most valued things about him. Fosu-Mensah has shown he has good attacking capabilities too, often playing high like Valencia and no one is expecting the young right-back to score 20 goals a season, however is still an area he must work on, if he is to succeed Valencia and match his impressive attacking talents.

Despite not yet managing too many minutes on the pitch in a red shirt Fosu-Mensah is sure to become a fan favourite when he returns to United at the end of the season. In spite of a series of disappointing results at Palace, who are only three points off the relegation zone, his time in London is working to his advantage, as he registers minutes on the pitch and continues to show his qualities and capabilities to both United and Premier League fans around the world.

At the age of 20 he is surely only just warming up and can develop into a great successor to Antonio Valencia, at right-back for Manchester United.

Written by Ciara Garcha

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