After a series of match-winning performances throughout the 2011/12 campaign, Antonio Valencia became the successor of Manchester United’s famous number seven shirt at the start of the following Premier league campaign. For however short-lived his hold on the shirt was, Valencia was unlike many of his predecessors to wear the shirt. He didn’t possess the skill of Cristiano Ronaldo, or the leadership of Eric Cantona, or even the club record-breaking transfer fee of United’s lasted beholder of the shirt, Angel Di Maria. Instead, it was his athletic, or rather old school approach that won plaudits on and off the field. Since then, Valencia’s squad number has regressed, returning back to his original number of twenty-five, as has his form. Despite that, Valencia was awarded a new three-year contract and position by Van Gaal. Nowadays, he finds himself as United’s right full-back come right-wing back ahead of Rafael da Silva.
Valencia’s new found position has seen him put in some impressive displays against Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers, and more recently Preston North End. Unfortunately, however, these displays are none too often, as he is, seemingly, becoming reluctant to take on his opponent – a trait that has won him many plaudits in the past – but rather pass the ball in field. This is a great concern, as he is one of United’s main outlets for width, particularly when playing in a diamond formation. It is also greatly frustrating, as with his ability to take on an opponent down the touch-line what’s the worst that could happen?
Defensively, Valencia is sound with the exception of occasionally finding himself out of position. His athletic build is a nightmare for opponents, as his speed is difficult match, according to team mate Adnan Januzaj. Despite only being fully acknowledged as a defender earlier this season, previous United managers had already recognised Valencia’s defensive capabilities. Against harder opposition away from home, Ferguson would usually deploy Valencia as a deep-lying right midfielder, preventing ongoing opposing full backs from getting past. One of which was the ex-Chelsea left full-back Ashley Cole, who found it very difficult coming up against him. Moyes, too, relied upon Valencia as defensive cover, using him at right full-back when United were more than often chasing the game and were in need of bringing on an extra attacker without the expense of losing one.
Some would argue that Valencia has the ability to one day become the complete full back, due to his natural attacking instincts and athleticism. Whether this is the case one day, remains to be seen, likewise Valencia regaining the form that once granted him the number seven shirt. The latter being highly unlikely, of which the same can be said about his long-term future at the club if rumours are to be true. As such, Valencia could be the latest exit with the likes of Nathaniel Clyne or Seamus Coleman ready to be brought in this summer to replace him.
This article was written and researched by Jake Hartigan. You can follow him on Twitter.