Antonio Valencia has been an incredibly important player for United this season. Ferocious pace, an endless tank of energy and an insatiable desire to get in and around the box have made Valencia an indomitable figure, making defenders quake at the knees as soon as they read the team sheet.
Prior to the start of the campaign, fears were rife after he was injured on international duty with Ecuador. Considering he managed to recover from a potentially career threatening injury from the season before, it was the last thing he needed.
The ankle injury kept him out for the first month of fixtures and he only made a return to the Premier League against Chelsea in the 3-1 victory at Old Trafford, replacing Chris Smalling as right-back. He continued his stint at right-back for the next three appearances against Leeds, Stoke and and Norwich, showing an uncompromising versatility not usually associated with attacking wingers.
After goals against Otelul Galati and Wigan, fans quickly heaped praise on Valencia’s quick return to blistering form and his performance against Arsenal threw him into the limelight. A stunning performance capped with a goal and an assist began his incredible run of form that saw him named the ManUtd.com Player of the Month with an impressive 79% of votes from fans.
Since January United have only lost once, this week against Wigan, and Valencia has been key to that success. He has provided fantastic natural width to United keeping with our traditional 4-4-2 formation and provided countless goalscoring opportunities. For example, he whipped in over 20 crosses against Blackburn at Ewood Park before deciding to take on the chance himself a score a Roberto Carlos-esque peach of a curler.
For me, he is an outstanding candidate for the player of the year awards. His versatility in September got United out of a sticky situation with our defensive injuries and he played with such a professional attitude that those not associated with football may have thought it was his natural position.
He thrived when given the chance and staked his claim on the right-wing starting spot, forcing Nani and Young to compete on the left. He found a consistency that proved elusive to many others and hasn’t slowed up at any point. At points this season, his drive and accuracy have given me flashbacks to Ronaldo running down the wing and if he can now keep himself injury free, his name will certainly be held in high esteem for years to come.