A question which has being asked numerous times this season from not just United fans but fans of other clubs – where has that Valencia bloke disappeared to? Despite making 17 appearances so far this season, Antonio Valencia’s form has been out of sorts compared to his superior form last year which saw him claim the clubs Player of the Year award.
With Manchester United’s ever changing back four this season and no less than three different players plying their trade in the right back position so far this season, Valencia has struggled to find the consistency which he had in the 2011-2012 season. Valencia’s importance at the club has grown over the past few years and this is in no small part down to the improvement of our very own boisterous Brazilian, Rafael Pereira Da Silva.
Since signing for United back in 2008 along with his twin brother Fabio, Rafael has been a revelation at the club. Many people were calling for United to sign an established right back to replace Gary Neville who retired in 2007 but Sir Alex Ferguson kept his whits about him and instead of signing a new player, he used the likes of Wes Brown and John O’Shea in that position in preparation for the rise of Rafael.
Early signs showed United following that the potential in Rafael was there but the main problem was his immaturity. Usually, this resulted in him getting silly bookings and sliding in on players where standing up would have been the better option. But since Rafael has matured and made himself one of the league’s best right backs, United’s right wing has been phenomenally strong.
It is easy to tell that Valencia and Rafael have a good relationship. They know each others game. They work well under pressure and more importantly, they work as a pair down the right instead of two individual players. When Rafael decides to go on one of his trademark attacking runs, Valencia is quick to cover so they more or less switch positions for a period of the game. They know when to overlap and when to sit back and play cautiously. This chemistry and understanding is vital to making not just two men play better, but 11 men play better as they know what they are going to get week in week out.
Rafael has recently being struggling with injuries and this has seen Phil Jones and Chris Smalling deputise in the right back position. Both have done fairly well, but neither have the full understanding of Valencia in which Rafael does. This has seen a severe dip in form from the 27-year-old Ecuadorian.
He looks as lost as a dog without its owner. But now Rafael is back to full fitness and is looking as bright and eager as ever, the Rafalencia partnership may just be about to shine at its brightest, hopefully starting by demolishing Liverpool again on Saturday as both players were integral to the 2-1 victory at Anfield earlier in the season.
In case you can’t remember how well either played, here’s a reminder of my moment of the season so far.