The curse of the Manchester United number seven; 37 goals scored in a decade!

This summer will mark ten years since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, something that was devastating at the time but also something most came to terms with. Ronaldo was just another top player to wear the famous number seven shirt at the Old Trafford club. Players such as George Best, Steve Coppell, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, and David Beckham all wore this magical shirt number.

Just mentioning six names brings a total of 633 goals with these players, although not all the time (for some), wearing the famous number seven shirt. Best scored 179 goals in 470 appearances. Coppell scored 70 goals in 396 appearances. Robson scored 99 goals in 461 appearances. Cantona scored 82 goals in 185 appearances. Beckham scored 85 goals in 394 appearances. Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 appearances.

In the last ten years since Ronaldo left, United has had five different players wearing the famous shirt but the magic seems to have worn off. Michael Owen wore the shirt from the 2009/10 season until the 2011/12 season. Antonio Valencia, switching from the number 25 shirt, wore it from the 2012/13 season until the 2013/14 season. Angel Di Maria wore it for the 2014/15 season, then Memphis Depay for the 2015/16 season, until he left in January 2017. It was vacant for a year before Alexis Sanchez arrived at the club.

Post-Ronaldo, just 15 Premier League goals have been scored by players wearing the famous number seven shirt. That is just 1.5 goals per year. It is also not good enough, considering the players who have worn the shirt, at least more recently. Owen actually scored a total of 17 goals in the shirt, just five of them in the Premier League.

Valencia scored four goals, two of them in the Premier League. Di Maria scored four goals in total. Memphis scored seven goals in total, two of them in the Premier League. Sanchez has scored five goals so far, just three in the Premier League.

After Ronaldo, it was always going to be hard to fill that shirt. Ronaldo was not so keen on wearing the shirt in 2003 when he replaced Beckham in the squad but Sir Alex Ferguson suggested he was ready to wear it. Two years into his career at the club, he was right. Ronaldo was born to wear that shirt. When you add up the figures, players to wear this shirt have actually scored a total of 37 goals in a decade.

Ronaldo, however, has scored 332 league goals (La Liga and Serie A) in the same period, a total of 478 goals in all competitions. That just shows the player he was and the size of the hole he left in the Unted squad when he left for Real Madrid. Could this be a period in time where United lost their ability to replace and develop talent? Or is it just because of the owners of the club, the Glazers, not wanting to spend and only cashing in and servicing a debt they placed on the club?

The thing is though, none of the players to wear that number seven shirt after Ronaldo has been worth anything. Of course, Valencia changed his number from 25 to seven, then changed it back after it became a burden on him. Di Maria came to the club with supporters having high hopes but he became a snake and used United to get to Paris Saint-Germain. Memphis was a prospect who has shone in the Netherlands but failed to do much at United, or beyond for that matter.

Then came Sanchez, a player who had been one of Arsenal’s best since signing for them in the summer of 2014, scoring a goal on average every two matches (166 appearances, 80 goals), spending three and a half years at the club. 18 months into his United career, having scored just five goals, thill three adrift of the total he scored for Arsenal in his last six months at the club. It would suggest that the number seven shirt at Manchester United has become more of a curse than a magical number.

How can the club turn this around? Stop signing players who could become marketing tools for the club. Di Maria, Memphis to a point and definitely Sanchez have all been signed with marketing being a major factor in them coming to the Theatre of Dreams. Sanchez’s arrival saw a simple video of him mime playing the piano, which executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward still brags about today.

Imagine a football club bragging about a social media post as many other clubs would brag about winning a major competition. Social Media has little to do with Manchester United and should not play a major factor. What should be prevalent is football being the priority. If it has been done well, as has been done in the past, the marketing will run itself. If you have to market the club, the way Woodward and the Glazers have shows the flaws at the club and the difficulty of overturning that.

Until Manchester United is run like a football club again, the curse of the number seven will grow, it will spread to other things and before you know it, the club will have fallen into depths it has never been at before. How long is this going to be accepted?

Club loyalty is still alive and well within the Manchester United squad

When a club endures a change in manager, it also can endure a change in playing style philosophy. With a change in that philosophy can come a change in which players fit in with the club, and which ones don’t, which can leave these players facing a decision.

The question of whether or not to stay and take a cut in either salary or playtime, or to leave and go for these things can become a tough one when you come to love the club you already play for. Manchester United is also one of those clubs that traditionally has drawn in that loyalty from its players throughout history.

Things can get even more confusing for players when there are three changes in the permanent manager position. Many players have seemed to fall between the cracks of the United squad, potentially missing out on significant playtime in a prime point of their careers.

Some of them may have gone down the totem pole for poor form, but instead of being transferred or being given a second chance, they’re stuck in the reserves.

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Many players would most likely make a move during the transfer window to a club where they can get more playtime to improve or sometimes more money if they were caught up in this, but some seem to have refused to give up on that United starting XI spot.

The recent reports that Antonio Valencia will potentially be leaving the club after United decided they won’t extend his contract highlights this club loyalty that has seemed to exist at the club for decades.

Valencia could possibly be leaving the club on the 10-year anniversary of the now 33-year-old Ecuadorian national’s arrival at United, and while he has faced quite a few bouts of injury, Valencia has managed to stick with the club through the thick of the changes the club was enduring throughout the last six years.

While Valencia has stayed fairly consistent with his appearances since 2013, he did lack in appearances during the 2015/16 season, only making 24 appearances due to injury in all competitions with the club. However, while he has had his struggles, he never gave up on the club, and he stayed loyal in the hopes to redeem himself at United instead of leaving to a smaller club.

Ashley Young joined the United squad from Aston Villa in July of 2011 with an atmosphere of excitement around him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to match his form at Aston Villa, as over the next few years after he moved, his appearances became less consistent, and so did his form it seemed, as he only made 24 appearances in all competitions that year.

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Again, many players (especially as they age) would consider making a move to increase their playtime and get them back into form. Young stuck around and kept up his training to remain in consideration for the first team spot, and this is something that is becoming more and more unique about United. The players are not willing to give up on the starting positions, even when they are bumped down the list.

Both of these players show different scenarios in which the United badge seemingly kept players who could have easily made a move and kept them in the fight for a starting role. Many others have definitely been in this position like younger players Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard, who some may say have been knocked back a year or two, due to not fitting into a system at some point while United have been enduring changes.

While those players still had time to prove themselves given their youth, veterans such as Young and Valencia suffered cuts to their playtime during the prime points of their careers.

However, in the modern age where the only goal for players is to become the biggest star and receive the highest wages, some still prioritise the club, and will take a cut to their own playtime just to wear the United badge when they do come on the pitch, and of course, to possibly lift another trophy while wearing the badge as well.

Written by Joel Dulka

Should Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata and Matteo Darmian have their contracts renewed?

With all of the contract news coming out of Manchester United recently I felt it only prudent to examine which player’s contracts will be expiring in June 2019, at the end of the season, and give my thoughts as to whether or not each player has done enough to warrant a renewal or not.

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Ashley Young

First up, and if you’ve read my previous pieces you’ll know this to be true, is my favourite player Ashley Young. With his contract expiring in June 2019, at the end of the current season, there are reports that he will be renewing his contract soon. Per these reports, he was offered a 12-month extension but wanted a two-year deal, like the one Marouane Fellaini was given, much like Juan Mata. However, if reports are to be believed he will be accepting the 12-month extension instead.

A lot of fans believe Young to be a good squad option and you’ll be surprised to hear there are even some who think he should stay in the first team, which is absolute madness.

I, however, believe he should be shipped out as soon as possible so that other players can take his spot, such as Diogo Dalot and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. If the club needs to keep him for another year just to be sure they have a right back in place who can be relied upon then that is fair, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of other players.

If Young stays then he should most definitely be put to the side and used only if, and when, he is desperately needed. Otherwise he is collecting a wage and taking the spot of someone of higher quality because as sure as the sun rises you can be sure that Young is no longer of the quality that a Manchester United player should be, his legs are gone and his crossing is woeful, he has outstayed his welcome at the club by a good two to three years.

Final Verdict: Do not renew

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Antonio Valencia

Sitting on the opposite side of the pitch to the aforementioned Young is Antonio Valencia, another winger converted into fullback and although he is a few years younger he has admitted to needing ice on his knee every day in order to keep playing the way he does.

Much like Young on the right or left, he is also rather ineffectual on both sides and despite a few moments of brilliance offers very little to the club, especially if they are to move forward and challenge for any titles.

Valencia has not played any minutes since the 2-0 victory over Newcastle United on January 2nd, which was his one and only appearance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, so you have to wonder if, given there is no injury news, he is being phased out and prepared for release.

Back at the beginning of the season, there were reports that Jose Mourinho was unhappy with Valencia due to the defender putting on weight over the summer break and coming back in poor condition. This, combined with him needing constant icing of his knee, is reason enough for him to no longer pull on a United shirt.

It’s a sad fact that often an older and more experienced player will be kept at a club and have a detrimental impact on younger players who are fitter, healthier and just as capable. It is because of all of this that I believe Valencia should be let go, as if given the choice between only one of him and Young staying at the club until others are ready then Young is the one who should stay, although both should still leave.

With any luck, the club will opt against renewing his contract or taking up the 12-month extension they can trigger, as it will be hard for them to sell him elsewhere and get any kind of fee for him.

Final Verdict: Do Not renew

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Juan Mata

The Spanish playmaker with a heart of gold is next and as I previously mentioned he was offered a 12-month extension on his contract but he wishes to have two years instead. Mata has expressed his desire to stay at the club though and if he really does want to stay then accepting the 12-month extension would be a no brainer right?

Unlike the prior two players I do believe Mata can offer something to the club and he is a good option to have when you need something in the last 10-15 minutes as Mata does have an eye for a pass and he possesses the uncanny ability to be right where he needs to be to come up with a goal every now and then.

The issue with Mata is that he doesn’t offer much in the way of speed and is one of the slowest players at the club, although he used to be fast his legs have also gone. This is a big problem in a team that now likes to play offensive, quick attacking football, he was perfect under Mourinho when the team didn’t need much movement, but now the team needs someone like Jesse Lingard more than they need Mata. This is why he should be a last resort and late game player as he will be more effective when the opposing players are tired.

I do believe that the club should retain Mata as a squad option due to what he can offer and a 12-month extension should be all he gets, again to enable to club time to find someone else to understudy for whoever makes the right side their own.

Final Verdict: Renew, but only for 12 months.

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Matteo Darmian

I’m sure many of you read that name and the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Who?’ because to many supporters it is hard to believe Darmian is still at the club, especially as he always seems to have interest from clubs in Italy. However, it always appears that Manchester United are asking for too much for him and it puts teams off.

With a grand total of 361 minutes of football this season you would be hard pressed to name anything he has done for the team at all in the 2018/19 season. The answer, quite rightfully, is not much.

With the ability to operate as a midfielder and on both sides of defence Darmian is a relic of the Van Gaal era, a time all United fans would like to forget if not for the dull football alone. However, for the last few years, Darmian has always seemed to be used as a left back, which is rather surprising considering his lack of ability to defend.

You may very well be able to see where this is going and that is not to the good place. Darmian is currently 29  years of age and not getting any younger and the only thing he appears to have brought to the club is a pair of awful sideburns that seemed to just exist on the sides of his head without purpose. He is very much a squad player as of now and should be giving up his place for, again, some younger blood.

If the club wants to keep him as backup for the backup on the left or right then it would be better suited getting Darmian off the books and having Demetri Mitchell as the backup instead, someone who has a lot more game time this season, albeit on loan with Hearts.

Darmian, like Valencia, has an option for a further year at the end of the season and should the club wish to they will trigger the option, however, I believe they are best off letting him go because nobody is going to pay anything more than £5 million for him.

Final Verdict: Do not renew

Due to the number of players whose contracts are expiring in June, this will be part one of two.

Written by Craig Holland-Greenfield

Manchester United’s South American Reds: Hit and miss

Manchester United have announced that the club has an agreement with Shakhtar Donetsk to sign Brazilian midfielder Fred. It is likely that the player will go on to represent the red side of Manchester like many South Americans before him. However, the South Americans that came before him, didn’t have the smoothest careers at Old Trafford. Some have been a success whilst others have been failures. MUFC Latest takes at some of the best and worst South American signings United have made.

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Juan Sebastian Veron

The Argentine arrived in Manchester from Lazio for a fee of £24.3 million. Sir Alex Ferguson brought in Veron to be an anchor in a midfield three which would also consist of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. However, this did not go accordingly as the United midfielders struggled to adapt to a new midfield structure. Veron also struggled with the tempo of the English game. He did considerably better in the Champions League due to the European tempo that existed in most matches. Unfortunately, during his second season with the reds, he sustained an injury that would go on to be an ongoing problem throughout his career.

After just two seasons in Manchester, Veron was sold to Chelsea for £15 million in 2003. Many fans and pundits alike will consider Veron a flop at Manchester United. After being a record signing for a non-UEFA player, the Argentine failed to live up to his hype. However, he obviously gained respect from Sir Alex Ferguson. Answering critics, the Scot said: “Veron is a fucking great player and you’re all fucking idiots!”

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Diego Forlan

The Uruguayan joined Manchester United in January 2002 from Independiente in Argentina for a fee of £6.9 million. Unfortunately, Forlan’s start to his United career did not go as expected. The striker featured 13 times for United in the Premier League and five times in the Champions League. However, the player failed to score a single goal during his first season at Old Trafford.

Furthermore, the next two seasons from Forlan improved his stature at the club as the goals came in. The Uruguayan managed to score 17 goals in 98 appearances for the club. Although still not an amazing goal record, however, some of the goals he did score were important for the club. Some of these goals include an 85th-minute winner against Southampton and a 90th-minute winner against Chelsea. Overall, the striker contributed six goals during United’s successful 2002/2003 Premier League Winning campaign.

Though still not considered a successful signing by critics and fans, Diego Forlan’s name still gets sung at Old Trafford today. The Uruguayan scored two goals against Liverpool away at Anfield in the 2002/2003 league campaign. The Mancunian giants won the game 2-1 as Forlan went down in United folklore. Forlan has spoken out on his chant which goes; “Diego woah, Diego woah, he came from Uruguay, he made the scousers cry.” He said every time he hears the song it gives him goosebumps.

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Carlos Tevez

The Argentine was definitely a successful signing for Manchester United. However, his success at Old Trafford is overshadowed by joining local rivals Manchester City and being open about his bitterness towards Sir Alex Ferguson.

The player originally joined Manchester United on a two-year loan deal from West Ham United just in time for the 2007/2008 season. Almost immediately, Tevez came across as a player that Sir Alex Ferguson desired to sign on a permanent deal. Tevez formed one of the best attacking lines the Premier League has ever seen alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. The trio inspired United to a Premier League and Champions League double in Tevez’s first season at United. The striker contributed to 5 goals during the successful European campaign and scored the first penalty of the shootout in the final.

Near the end of his second season at Old Trafford, doubts about his United career unfolded. United failed to sign Tevez on a permanent deal and he joined Manchester City for the 2009/2010 season.

Obviously, it is hard for United fans to see Tevez in a positive way but whilst he wore the United shirt his quality and effort cannot be knocked. He’s certainly a one that got away for United fans.

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Antonio Valencia

The Ecuadorian was brought to Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson in June 2009. Although United did not win the league in his debut season, Valencia was an immediate success. In his first season at the club, he won the League Cup but also got into the PFA team of the year. The right-sided player is going into his ninth season at Old Trafford and remains a vital cog in Jose Mourinho’s team. After wearing the captains arm-band a number of times under Jose Mourinho, the player is one of the most experienced in the squad. Should United challenge for league in the coming season, Valencia is expected to be a regular starter.

One of the reasons for Antonio Valencia’s long-term success at Manchester United is his ability to operate as a right winger and at right back. Valencia is as equally effective in both roles either in attack or defence. Valencia’s main attributes are his aggressive style of play, his physicality, and his pace. These attributes allow the Ecuadorian to get forward and cause problems on the attack but also allow him to get back and be solid as a rock defensively.

Although arriving near the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s spell at Old Trafford, the player has still enjoyed a decorated career at the club. Valencia has won the Premier League on two occasions, in the 2010/2011 season and the 2012/2013 season. He has won one FA Cup, two League Cups, three Community Shields and most recently the Europa League. Valencia is expected to be a stalwart in United’s side for another few years and would hope to add to this success.

Written by Shane Purcell

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

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

Antonio Valencia, a growing liability in defence and attack

Manchester United currently sit second in the Premier League table. They have a date with Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final in a month’s time. They are fourth in goals scored with 58, a year removed from an anemic 54 goal campaign, and second in goals conceded. With 65 points from 30 matches, United are on pace for 80+ points. This would almost certainly be good enough to secure UEFA Champions League football next season, represent their best return from a league campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season five years ago and in many years would be a total good enough to win the league.

Yet, in spite of all that, there’s a certain lack of fulfillment in watching United play right now. They often look disjointed and toothless going forward with occasional sparks of individual brilliance bailing them out. The defensive record, though impressive, often feels like a mirage buoyed by David De Gea’s brilliance. Per the Daily Mail:

“By the number of shots faced, xG, assuming the United keeper is of average ability in the league, should have conceded 35.33 goals. De Gea, however, has conceded just 23, meaning he has prevented 12.33 Expected Goals.

“Essentially, it shows that De Gea has saved several shots this season that would have been expected to be scored.

“His closest rival, Tottenham’s Paulo Gazzaniga, is some way off, preventing 0.74 Expected Goals – but he has made just the one appearance earlier on this season.

“City’s Ederson, who has earned many plaudits for making a quick transition into the Premier League following his summer transfer, is even further behind De Gea in the standings, only preventing 0.41 Expected Goals. “

Many players have come in for criticism at various points for United’s inability to consistently hit the highs expected of them. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, etc. have all come under pressure for their performances.

One who has escaped such scrutiny is long-time stalwart and right-winger turned right back, Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has been a fixture in Jose Mourinho’s starting XI since the Portuguese took over for Louis van Gaal, starting 54 of 68 possible Premier League matches.

For much of that time, Valencia has been in excellent form.

In particular, last season he was one of United’s most consistent performers. He was excellent going forward to provide width for a United side who did and still do lack a natural right-handed attacking presence. Defensively he was both disciplined in maintaining defensive shape while also often controlling and coming out on top in one versus one situations.

That form carried into the beginning of the campaign, but hasn’t sustained. In recent months he’s looked like a shell of himself.

His willingness to provide overlapping runs and width – which he was criticized for by Mourinho following United’s insipid 2-0 victory over Brighton – for a United side desperate for it has seemingly vanished. Valencia scored some wonder goals earlier in the campaign but his overall attacking contribution has dipped.

The numbers paint the picture of a player in decline. He’s averaging 0.71 key passes and 0.75 chances created per 90 minutes this season. This is down from 1.01 key passes and 1.12 chances created last year. He’s been less willing to take on a man as his successful take ons have dropped from 1.34 last year to 1.10 this year.

The knock on effect is United are now far too predictable and narrow in attack. Their most common attacking options on the right have been Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, both of whom like to drift inward. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have both been given chances on the right as well, but have looked like fish out of water.

If his dip in form primarily lay in his contributions going forward perhaps it could simply be chalked up to a lack of confidence. A right back’s primary duties, even in this day and age, still lie in defense. Unfortunately, Valencia has been a liability in this phase as well.

He’s winning fewer tackles per 90 minutes (1.06 this season, 1.52 last) and losing more (2.24 this season, 2.03 last). He’s committing more fouls and his positioning has often been found wanting as was the case against Chelsea when he single-handedly played Willian onside for his opener last month. Too often opponents are finding joy running at him and either getting to the byline to deliver a cross or cutting inside to shoot.

In particular, he received a hiding in United’s embarrassing 2-1 loss to Sevilla at Old Trafford in the Champions League. Joaquin Correa, Sevilla’s left winger, toyed with his time and time again. It was no surprise Correa received the highest score among Valencia’s attacking quarter by following the match.

Valencia is still serviceable in matches where United sit in a low block and look to hit on the counter, like the recent 2-1 victory over Liverpool. He can still ‘do a job’, but United need far more than that. When United must be more progressive in their approach and push numbers forward to open up opposition defenses his limitations are debilitating.

He’s incapable or unwilling to get forward. He doesn’t attack the space which is so often there when he has the opportunity. This allows defenses to stay narrow and compact to limit the spaces as there’s no attacking threat on United’s right.

Defensively he’s been exposed when the winger in front of him doesn’t provide cover. Simply put, his performances haven’t been good enough for a Manchester United right back.

Now, to be fair, the lack of rotation hasn’t helped. Matteo Darmian is on his way out and Ashley Young can’t rotate because of Mourinho’s lack of trust in Shaw. Perhaps Timothy Fosu-Mensah returning from loan at Crystal Palace will provide the necessary opportunities for the rest and recover he needs. Maybe Mourinho will need to target a right back in the summer transfer market.

Either way, if United are to challenge for top honors domestically and in Europe Valencia must have competition for his place. He has been a great servant to the club over the years and contributed to two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a Europa League, but the club cannot afford to be nostalgic. At 32 years old, Valencia’s time is dwindling and this season’s decline may signal the end is coming sooner than hoped.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

Manchester United just need to keep on winning says a confident Antonio Valencia

Manchester United right-back Antonio Valencia has stated that he believes all the club can continue doing during the busy festive period is to win their matches. After the defeat to Manchester City in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford last weekend, United saw City’s lead extend to eleven points with many pundits and journalists saying the title race is over. United seem determined to claw back the deficit though.

United recovered from their derby defeat with a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday and City beat Swansea City 4-0 on the road. There are four more Premier League matches before the end of the month with United taking on West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, then Leicester City the day before Christmas Eve, Burnley on Boxing Day and Southampton the day before New Year’s Eve. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Valencia feels the festive period is a great opportunity to pick up plenty of points, maybe seeing others drop points.

“The important thing we have to do now is win,. We can’t really afford to lose or even draw, it’s about focusing ourselves and our objectives on winning as many games as we can and hoping that anyone above us slips up now and again.

“When it’s a packed fixture calendar like we have currently, it’s really important to follow step by step what the physios and medical team give us in terms of advice. It might be about how we recuperate, what we eat… anything that can help aid the recovery period between games because we have one every few days. It’s always really important to take their advice but especially when it’s a very packed schedule like it is now.”

United will be in action in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, and the Emirates FA Cup between now and when the UEFA Champions League returns in February with United being drawn against La Liga Sevilla in the last 16 of the competition. Jose Mourinho’s side could have found themselves being drawn against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus – getting an easier run in the competition instead. Valencia stated that United should not take the draw too favourable as Sevilla will be tough opposition, saying:

“When you get to this stage of the competition, teams who are still in it are there for a reason so we know Sevilla will be a real challenge. Whenever we’ve played against Spanish opposition in the past, they have always been set up very well and they’re very strong tactically. We go to their place first and we know we’ll have to perform just how Manchester United can perform and, if we get a good result over there, hopefully we can bring them back to Old Trafford and do the business and qualify.

“There are no easy games in the last 16 and I’ve said before that, whichever team plays against Manchester United, is always motivated and it’s the same in Europe. They give that extra little bit of themselves to perform even better than they would normally. We know it will be quite difficult going there and they’ll want to give a good account of themselves in front of their own supporters.

“It’s quite a way off but let’s hope, when we get to that game, we’re in good form and we can make sure we go and get a good result. I think both legs will be quite entertaining affairs.”

United will face West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns at 14:15 GMT on Sunday, seeking to keep winning in the Premier League, hoping that Tottenham Hotspur may end City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League this season – not that favours are something United will be wanting or expecting. The media have been singing City’s praises for the last few weeks, even with Alan Shearer suggesting City are the best team in the history of football, which is a pathetic statement as they have not won anything.

I am sure the media will continue to praise City, which is something they have become accustomed to over the last few years, praising their all singing and all dancing Academy, which is that good it does not have a continuous line of talent queueing to join the first team, instead the genius of Pep Guardiola has spent hundreds of millions in bringing in talent, which should have been created by the best Academy in England, surely. The media can write Manchester United off, but until it is mathematically impossible for another club to win the league, there is still time to challenge.

My Favourite Three: Sir Alex Ferguson signings; Valencia, Hernandez, Smith

Sir Alex Ferguson signed some magnificent players during his reign of Manchester United and some right duds. In 26-years plus, you could say he had an eye for a good player, with some just not adapting to the team, the league, the country or even the continent as many high-profile players have in effect failed at the club, which is not Ferguson’s fault and it might not actually be the player’s fault – just being one of those things. During my time as a Red Devil – I will be 21 this year – I have seen some good players come to the club, and the three below are some of my favourites. I was unable to choose an actual favourite of mine as another writer had chosen him; Cristiano Ronaldo, but the three below are favourites, not necessarily the top three, but close.

Antonio Valencia

The Ecuadorian winger was signed in 2009, the summer Cristiano Ronaldo left United, signing from Wigan Athletic for a £16 million fee, signing a four-year contract at the time. Valencia was not Ronaldo but was a player who helped the club get over losing possibly the best player in the world at the time. Valencia made his debut playing in the Audi Cup, also scoring in the 2-1 victory over Boca Juniors – making his competitive debut in the FA Community Shield against Chelsea, replacing Nani in the 62nd minute with the score 2-2 with Chelsea winning 4-1 on penalties. Valencia was given the number 25 shirt, a number he still wears today, after a stint wearing the number seven, which seemed to make him lose his form, a shirt number which seems to be cursed as each player wearing the number after Ronaldo have not done all that well, which is probably a coincidence rather than something else. Over the last few seasons, Valencia have moved further back now playing as a right-back and was deservedly named Manchester United Player’s Player of the Year for last season, showing his ability on and off the ball, just one of the reasons why he is one of my favourite players, at least during my time as a Manchester United supporter.

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez or Chicharito as he is better known, meaning Little Pea, was probably one of the bargains Sir Alex Ferguson signed for Manchester United. October 2009 was when United were made aware of the Mexican striker, pushing forward for a deal with was agreed in April 2010, many supporters not knowing who this young lad from Mexico was. The deal was secret, even his agent and family members were unaware as to what the player was doing. The former Chivas Guadalajara striker was granted a work permit at the end of May 2010, making his move official on the 1st July. part of the deal was that United would open Guadalajara’s new stadium whilst on the club’s pre-season tour with Chicharito starting for his old club, scoring and switching sides at half-time, seeing his new club beaten 3-2. His competitive debut for United came in the FA Community Shield at Wembley again against Chelsea but with United winning 3-1 with the Mexican coming on in the second half, scoring a goal which came off his own face – pretty memorable. Hernandez scored 59 goals in 157 appearances for United, most of the time coming off the bench. He was frustrating at times, but most players are. Chicharito was sold by Louis van Gaal to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2015, which might have been a mistake at the time, Jose Mourinho certainly thinks so, but it is one the club now needed to get over in a bid to rebuild the fallen side of recent years.

Alan Smith

Alan Smith, many will wonder why he is a favourite of mine. I liked him when I was growing up, scoring many goals for Leeds United, a team we all love to hate, but as a player, he was decent and had his value, something he really did not fully meet at United, but he did his bit. Smith signed for just £7 million in the summer of 2004, a small fee considering the transfers of today, but at the time it was a big fee for a player. Smith scored ten times for United in his first season, a season hampered by injury, which was to become the story of his Manchester United career. Ferguson turned Smith into a midfielder, before turning him back into a striker after Ruud van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid in the summer of 2006, with Smith eventually leaving for Newcastle United the following year. In a defeat to Liverpool in February 2006, Smith broke his leg and dislocated his ankle after a tackle by John Arne Riise, meaning he would miss the League Cup final, Smith was out for nine months after undergoing surgery the next day. United beat Wigan 4-0 in the League Cup final with the players wearing shirts with ‘For you Smudge’, Smiths nickname when they lifted the trophy. Smith made a total of 93 appearances for United, scoring 12 goals, ten of those in his first season. Not a great return from the player, but he did excite me whilst I was growing up. I am sure you have favourite players who were not superstars too.

Manchester United Player Season Review 2016/17: The Defence

Manchester United did not have the best of seasons during the 2016/17 campaign which commenced in high spirits with Jose Mourinho replacing Louis van Gaal as the manager, with the Portuguese former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager bringing in Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba as his four summer signings, Pogba being the current world record signing which could be eclipsed and even surpassed this summer if reports are to be believed. Mourinho had instilled the winning mentality into his new club just weeks after be became the manager, pushing for big changes from the start of the season. United started off by beating Leicester City to win the FA Community Shield, the first of many trophies under Mourinho, which turned out the be the case only in the first season.

United started well in the league, winning their first three matches, but a three-match losing streak then turned the season upside down, losing two Premier League matches and one in the UEFA Europa League. United found their feet again, but the ups and downs kept coming. Too many draws in the Premier League, most of them at home became a problem for United, which contributed in their sixth-placed finish, a first for the club who had finished seventh (David Moyes), fourth and fifth (Louis van Gaal) post-Sir Alex Ferguson. The season had a different feeling to it though, something was being built for the future, Mourinho was bringing United back to the helm just like Ferguson did in the 1990’s.

Of course, Rome was not built in a day, but things are changing. United ended the season with two more trophies; the EFL Cup, beating Southampton 3-2 at Wembley at the end of February and the UEFA Europa League, beating Ajax 2-0 in Sweden, more importantly earning a UEFA Champions League group stage place next season, the minimum requirement for Mourinho and his team. The season reviews have been written for the Premier League, EFL Cup, Emirates FA Cup, and the UEFA Europa League now it is the player’s turn to be reviewed and rated, moving onto the defenders.

Eric Bailly

The £30 million man who many did not know of when he arrived at Manchester United last summer. £30 million for an unknown many said. I remember the same criticisms when Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra rolled up at the Theatre of Dreams. The Ivorian was tipped to be one for the future by Jose Mourinho, but he turned into one for the now too. Bailly fits in at Manchester United like a hand into a glove. Did what was expected and showed the aggression needed to play at the back. Bailly has played in the right-back position too, but centrally he is much better. The arrival of Victor Lindelof this summer will be a big boost for Bailly, he will not have to be relied upon as much as he was during the past season, which is good for the player who will get some rest, but he will also form a partnership with the Swedish international, which could bode well for the club, securing the defence and pushing from the back, ensuring that late goals are not conceded, with United looking to turn their home draws into victories, which is important if the club wants to challenge in the Premier League next season, which will be a must.

Appearances: Premier League: 25, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 11, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 38

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 7, Red Cards: 2

Season Rating: 4/5

Phil Jones

This was the season Phil Jones was to return to his best, and at a point, it looked like he was getting there, then injury struck, again. Jones has been plagued with injury for almost all of his career at United, signing from Blackburn Rovers in 2011. Partnered with Marcos Rojo at a point over the last season, Jones was playing well, improving and impressing at times. There was still a long way to go, but at least he was heading in the right direction. Jones is the better option compared to Chris Smalling, in my opinion at least and if one was to leave this summer, I would give Jones another chance to show what he could do, making a decision at the end of the coming season. Mourinho likes Jones, injuries have been a problem, but this one saw those less serious. Jones has been at United for six years, Smalling seven, so allowing him the same amount of time could well prove to be a good decision. United need English players in the team and getting rid of both Jones and Smalling could well be a mistake.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 3, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 26

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 3, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Marcos Rojo

The Argentinian central defender was tipped to leave the Old Trafford club last summer, but he put his head down, concentrated on his football and became a resurgent player, partnering Phil Jones during part of the season, nicknamed RoJones, then forming a better partnership with Eric Bailly. Rojo earned his place on the team this season, and his place heading into next season. The fact he can play at left-back and in a more central role will be a big bonus. Victor Lindelof will add more competition for places, but with Rojo suffering a serious knee injury back in April, the fact that he probably will not play again in 2017 will see the Swedish international partner Bailly, forming a strong partnership, which will take a lot of work to break into for Rojo, but saying that it will give Mourinho another option at the back, as will Daley Blind. Rojo should remain at the Old Trafford club this summer, he is far too important to let go. Not that it is rumoured he will leave this summer, he can’t being that he is injured.

Appearances: Premier League: 21, Emirates FA Cup: 4, EFL Cup: 5, UEFA Europa League: 10, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 41

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 5, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3.5/5

Chris Smalling

Chris Smalling is a player who could well be sold this summer, which is what many would like to see. Under Louis van Gaal, the England international played well, and at a time was considered the best central defender at the club. Fast forward a year, that is no longer the case. Eric Bailly has that crown now, with Marcos Rojo also performing well under Mourinho, pushing the almost always injured pairing of Smalling and Phil Jones onto the sidelines, a place they have spent a lot of time over the past six or seven seasons. Smalling played well in the UEFA Europa League final against Ajax, which should not be suggested that he ended his season well. His was poor the majority of the time, criticised but his manager for not playing through the pain barrier, returning just at the right time after Bailly was ruled out of the final because he was sent off in the semi-final second leg. Smalling is not the guy that could replace Rio Ferdinand or even Nemanja Vidic. The arrival of Victor Lindelof could show him the door, here’s hoping. I am thankful for what Smalling has done at the club, but post-Sir Alex Ferguson, he has been a player who is yet to rise and lead the team, I not sure he could lead the team.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 4, EFL Cup: 4, UEFA Europa League: 10, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 36

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 2

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 0, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Daley Blind

The Dutch international had a good second season at United, playing well as a central defensive player, rather than the left-back or even left-wing-back he had played in under Louis van Gaal. The player was paired with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly during the season, partnering Bailly for the last few weeks of the season after Rojo suffered a severe knee injury, ruling him out for the rest of the season and probably the rest of 2017. Blind may not be the best at what he does but he has the eye needed to play football, able to read the game well and do what is needed most of the time. Blind should remain at the club this coming summer, as he is an option. With Mourinho signing Victor Lindelof, which should go through this coming week, Bailly will have a partner for much of United’s matches, but the pair will also be split up in times where United will need to rotate, which will be for much of the season with United back in the Champions League and fighting on three domestic fronts.

Appearances: Premier League: 24, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 11, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 40

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 4, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3.5/5

Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw has not had a great time at Manchester United. His first season was plagued by injury and a lack of fitness stopping him from breaking into the team. After the dust settled, the new season came with Shaw putting in extra training to get ready, starting well. A double leg fracture ended his season just over a month in, which devastated the player. Shaw was ready to start his third season, this time under a new manager, Jose Mourinho. The supporters were raring for Shaw to have a good season, but that was not going to be the case. Injuries, lack of form and problems with his fitness and mentality plagued his season. Shaw eventually got his chance to make his manager happy, doing well but suffering a new injury, which saw him end the season on crutches, something which will also see him miss pre-season and quite possibly a chance to secure his place at left-back at the start of the new season, especially with the likes of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley and Demetri Mitchell waiting in the wings, which could add more disappointment to Shaw’s United career, but he is young and talented enough to persevere and break through, providing he can avoid injury, which has been the main thing he has suffered since signing for Manchester United.

Appearances: Premier League: 11, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 2, UEFA Europa League: 4, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 19

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 1, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Timothy Fosu-Mensah

Timothy Fosu-Mensah really should have played more during the last season, making a total of eleven appearances across all competitions. I am not sure what his favoured position is, whether it be at right-back, playing second fiddle to Antonio Valencia, or as a defensive midfielder, possibly the replacement for Michael Carrick, who signed a new contract in the last few weeks. The Dutch international certainly has a good future ahead of him. I am sure United and Mourinho will have plans for the youngster, who did not play any U23 football last season, seemingly earmarked to get him ready for the next season, which is hopefully the case. The player is good at what he does, he is already a fans favourite. A loan spell could well be coming for him, but I would like to see him remain at United and utilised in whatever position he wants to play in, seeing him rise through the first team and cement a starting place. Him, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in a midfield three could be something to salivate in the years to come.

Appearances: Premier League: 4, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 4, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 11

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 1, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

Antonio Valencia

For me the Ecuadorian was the Player of the Season for Manchester United, something thought by his peers as he was awarded the Player’s Player of the Season, but Ander Herrera was chosen by the supporters of the club, winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season. Valencia turned a point under Mourinho, not being all that good defensively under Louis van Gaal, but under the Portuguese manager, he changed and could well have been the best right-back in the Premier League last season. Valencia signed a new contract earlier in the summer, which will surely mean he will keep his place, but cover will be needed throughout the season to keep him fresh, which there seems to be a lot of at the club right now with Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe and some other talented youth coming through the ranks. Mourinho could also opt to bring in cover during the transfer window. Valencia has a few years left at the top and being resurgent as he was in the last season, he could be the difference between United winning the league next season.

Appearances: Premier League: 29, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 9, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 43

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 3, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 7, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 4.5/5

Matteo Darmian

The Italian defender had a chance to show what he could do under another manager, a chance to bring back his form from his first few matches for United, which saw him being compared to Gary Neville. That changes with performances not being all that good throughout his debut season, much the same this time, but injuries to Luke Shaw and the fact that Daley Blind was also covering for injuries to central defensive players, Matteo Darmian played at left-back for much of the season. He was not the best player in that position, but certainly not the worst either. Darmian may very well leave the club this summer with Mourinho looking for a side capable of challenging in the Premier League, the only competition they fell short of last season, but if he stays, he will be a valuable squad player, one which could seek a chance to become a starter, but that would depend on a few things, one being the fitness of Antonio Valencia who is the best right-back United have, despite him being a right-winger.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 2, UEFA Europa League: 7, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 29

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 3, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

Axel Tuanzebe

Axel Tuanzebe was praised by Jose Mourinho near enough as soon as he became the manager, giving him his first team debut during pre-season on a trip to Wigan Athletic. The manager stated that giving him ten minutes was enough to see his qualities, suggesting that this season would be the season he would break through. It was but it was towards the end of the season where he was thrown into the first team, covering as a right-back with Antonio Valencia being rested against Arsenal, dealing with the threat of Alexis Sanchez very well. Tuanzebe then played out of position in midfield against Tottenham Hotspur, not playing his best game, which was understandable with him playing out of position. The player was utilised against Southampton and Crystal Palace also, as well as playing once in the Emirates FA Cup. Tuanzebe now knows what will be expected of him and with Marcos Rojo being injured for much of the coming season, along with new defensive acquisition Victor Lindelof, Tuanzebe could well find another chance to show the manager what he can do, keeping his defence rested in a bid to do much better next season, in the Premier League at least.

Appearances: Premier League: 4, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 5

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 0, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

copyright: JW