There were so many positives to take from Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa but for me, the return of the marauding partnership of Antonio Valencia and Rafael on the right wing was one of the highlights.
Rewind to the 2011/12 season. Ignoring the fact that we didn’t win the league, Rafael and Valencia’s partnership was the backbone to our title chase. Alongside each other, they tore up Premier League defences because of their telepathic nature together.
They knew when the other was heading for overlap or cutting inside for the pass without having to look. It was a partnership that greatly contributed to Valencia being named Players’ Player of the Year, Player of the Year and earning the Goal of the Season accolade.
Against Villa, that partnership returned with a vengeance.
Great link up play allowed Rafael to brilliantly jink his way to the touchline before his fired in cross found Adnan Januzaj, whose rebounded header was tucked away by Danny Welbeck. Valencia then turned into the provider for Welbeck’s second with a perfectly placed low cross for the striker to fire into the roof of the net.
Villa’s left back was turned inside out, rung, spun and hung out to dry by Valencia and Rafael who were almost toying with him by the end of the game.
You feel that the mere presence of Rafael improves the performance of Valencia and vice versa. They are partners in crime and thrive off playing alongside one another.
In Rafael’s absence, United have been extremely one dimensional on the right wing but yesterday, we were a flowing masterpiece and it was the heartbeat of most of our attacking play.
This year, United’s players all have to stand and be accounted for in what is going to be a tough season but if Rafael and Valencia can rekindle that sort of performance on a weekly basis, United will look like an entirely different beast in attack altogether.