Has Antonio Valencia been the Premier League’s best right-back this season?

With the PFA Awards just around the corner, has Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia been the stand-out right-back in the league this season?

The 32-year-old joined United back in 2009 and was at the time seen as a replacement for the outgoing Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Real Madrid for a world record £80 Million fee. After impressing at Wigan, Sir Alex Ferguson signed Valencia for £16 million, and said that the winger’s ‘pace and ability would make a significant contribution to the team’Ferguson also added:

“We have admired Antonio for some time now, having spent the last two years in the Premier League with Wigan.”

Valencia made a great start to his United career, in spite of the pressure placed upon him for being seen as Cristiano Ronaldo’s replacement. He scored his first goal on his debut, a pre-season game against Argentinian side Boca Juniors, and went on to make his competitive debut in the Community Shield against Chelsea.

His first season was a great success, making 34 league appearances, scoring five goals. Valencia was also named in the PFA team of the year in his debut season, as well as winning his first trophy. He put in a man of the match performances against Aston Villa at Wembley where United won the League Cup.

Apart from a few months out the following season, due to a broken ankle suffered in the Champions League, Valencia has been a mainstay in the United line-up. He has been a player that each manager coming in has clearly felt they could rely upon and that is why he has made over 200 appearances for the club.

When Louis van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford in 2014, he deployed the Ecuadorian as a right back, much due to the lack of options United had in that position.

It was a position that former United full-back Gary Neville felt that Valencia suited, and could thrive in. Neville said:

“I’d say now he’s probably a full-back. He is so responsible, dependable and committed that it’s been a very good transition. He’s done brilliantly well.”

From then on Valencia has gone from strength to strength at right-back and has become the club’s principal player in that position. However, this term has by far been his stand-out season at right-back for United, and the 32-year-old has played in all but four of United’s league games. Jose Mourinho said of Valencia:

“He is simply the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football.”

The Ecuadorian, even though not a right-back by trade has impressed over the past few years, and has turned into one of the most respected full-backs in the Premier League. He is highly tipped to be named in the PFA team of the year this season for the second time but in a different position, not something many players can lay claim to.

Becoming a make-shift right-back has solved many a problem for United, most of all, having to go out and buy a ready-made full-back, who will probably cost upwards of £30 million in today’s market.

At 32-years-old, Valencia is coming into the twilight of his career, but the fact he has kept himself in shape, shows how he could be United’s right-back for many seasons to come, and a successful one at that.

Written by Dan Pearce

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