Rewind to the 2011/12 season. Antonio Valencia scooped a trio of trophies at Manchester United’s end of season awards; Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Goal of the Season for his effort against Blackburn. He was an unstoppable force that year. No defender had any idea how to stop him. His pace and power made him unplayable.
But in 2012/13, Valencia receded into his shell after being given the #7 shirt. He struggled all season with niggling injuries and finished with only one goal to his name. Fans wondered whether we had seen the best of Valencia already. Where had he gone?
Fast forward to 17 September 2013. Valencia’s back in town. His performance against Bayer Leverkusen was the best 90 minutes that he has played in over a year. Crosses, shots, goals, assists and a bottomless engine – it was what made Valencia the 2011/12 Player of the Year and he showcased all of it again last night.
Valencia’s crossing was particularly impressive. Instead of fumbling in the one-on-one situation, he was decisive and took his man on before either driving or dinking a cross in – it was his delicate chipped cross that set Robin van Persie up for his bicycle kick and despite van Persie’s acrobatic effort, Valencia’s goal was the pick of the bunch.
A liquid counter attack was finished by Tony after he ran the length of the pitch to get on the end of a Rooney pass before driving a first timed effort past the helpless Leverkusen keeper. He celebrated by revealing his tattoo for Chucho Benitez, his Ecuadorian compatriot who sadly passed away suddenly only a few weeks ago.
Valencia has had a tough 12 months and the death of his friend Benitez would have had a profound effect on him but so far under David Moyes, he has started to blossom again and that culminated with his brilliant performance against Leverkusen last night.
Everyone loves Tony when he is on form. His directness makes him such a threat from the wings and there are very few players who can match his combination of power and pace. With the derby coming up this Sunday, Valencia’s return to form is very well timed and if he can replicate last night’s performance at the Etihad this Sunday, City’s defence are going to have a torrid time trying to contain him.