Manchester United’s sole Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia looked out of a career at Manchester United when Louis van Gaal was hired Manchester United, but he has quickly risen to being an important part of the side. Jose Mourinho, United manager now, has made Valencia his starting right back, and the former United player of the year has returned the favour with excellent performances, including a great match against Arsenal that made him worthy of his man of the match award. Michael Carrick, United’s vice-captain, explained just how good Valencia has been and why he has risen back to prominence after an initially touch switch to right-back.
Carrick, who has been instrumental for United this season, praised the attacking impetus that Valencia has added to his right-back role. Valencia came back early from a broken arm to play against Arsenal, which is a testament to his fitness, and he stunned everyone with the quality of his performance. Valencia, 31, is arguably one of the fittest players in the Premier League, let alone at United, and he does not seem his age at all.
“Antonio has been incredible at right-back since he has moved to that position. He just looks so dangerous going forward but, at the same time, he is so solid defensively. His positional play has improved a lot and I think that’s told. He has been our best player in a lot of our games this season. To come back so quick from a broken bone speaks volumes for him and his attitude to get back and play.”
I have been quite the critic of Valencia, but he has been undoubtedly excellent lately. His marauding runs down the right flank allow Juan Mata to play on the right-wing without making United’s front-five too centralized, and his improvement when it comes to defending space has been immense. Always good at defending one-v-one, Valencia has now expanded his game further, even improving his crossing. Valencia averages 3.1 tackles, 2.1 interceptions and 2.4 clearances per 90 minutes, tallying to almost 8 defensive actions per game. I don’t know if he is the best right-back in the Premier League quite yet, but this season he has been close to untouchable, even completing a key pass and two dribbles per match. Averaging a WhoScored rating of 7.39, his quality is both obvious to the eye and on paper.
Carrick isn’t the first United midfielder to praise Valencia’s form. Ander Herrera quite vocally stated that he believes Valencia is the best right-back in world football. If United is to break into the top four this season, Valencia will inevitably have to be at his best, marauding up the flank and creating chances, as United’s dearth of options out wide on the right could prove to be a problem with attacking width should Valencia not be in the squad. Now is the chance for the Ecuadorian to become an immovable object in the United setup for the rest of the Jose Mourinho tenure, and to be one of the best players in the world as far as right-backs go. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the rest of this season, because much like United as a collective, he looks far better under Mourinho than he did under previous tutelage.