Jose Mourinho has confirmed Antonio Valencia is ready to start in the Manchester derby despite returning late from international duty with Ecuador.
The 31-year-old has undergone a sensational regeneration under Mourinho, displaying a series of emphatic performances at right back, leading to a nomination for August Player of the Month.
It was feared Valencia, set to return from South America on Friday, would not play a part in Manchester United’s contest with Manchester City on Saturday.
“They’re available,” he said.
“Antonio was able to get one flight direct to Madrid and then to London and Manchester – an easy one.
“Sergio and Marcos went around the globe! They played in Venezuela and then went to Argentina and from there they came back to Europe!
“Man City spent the money to get them [their players] direct from Venezuela, or maybe they sent one of the owner’s planes, but our boys went to Argentina and from there they came back in time for training this morning.”
Who would have thought, prior to the 2016/17 season, that Valencia would be such a crucial member of Mourinho’s squad ahead of the Manchester derby?
And yet, on reflection, Valencia’s rise to prominence under Mourinho makes perfect sense: he is powerful, quick, disciplined, unyielding in his commitment and, most importantly, conscious of what it means to be a Man United player – second to only Wayne Rooney when it comes to Manchester derby appearances. He is, in many ways, exactly what Mourinho demands of a right-back.
In what will be a furious, potentially cagey battle on Saturday, the Ecuadorian’s imposing, dedicated presence on the right hand side promises to be crucial.