The disappointment of the result against Rangers last night turned to sadness as the extent of Antonio Valencia’s freak injury became apparent. The dislocation of the ankle and the break of the leg just above it mean he’ll almost certainly miss the entire season. Whilst we all wish him a speedy recovery, we cannot dwell on this for too long. From within our squad, someone is going to need to step up and play some games out of position on the wing.
Valencia’s injury leaves United with only three experienced wingers – Giggs, Nani and Park. Squad rotation, injuries and suspensions will mean that someone other than those three is going to need to play wide, so we must look at the alternatives.
First team squad: There are two young wingers in the first team squad who may well get a chance now in some matches – Obertan and Bebe. Obertan looked lively and exciting on the pre-season tour of America but an injury he sustained has kept him out until now. I’m told he is back in training and after seeing flashes of his raw skill and pace he would be an exciting player to come in. For most of us Bebe is still very much an unknown quantity. His two performances for the Portugal U21s have shown pace, power and skill but also highlighted how much advice and learning he still has to heed to.
Player versatility: I think this option is quite likely…first team players asked to play out wide and out of position. There are ample options here so I’ll start with the contenders from the defence. Evra and the da Silva twins are the three candidates. Evra is often one of our main threats as he makes his darting forward runs from left back. With potentially O’Shea behind him he could be given more license to try the tricks and skills that we often see him do. Alternatively there are the da Silva twins. Brazilian fullbacks often enjoy going forward as much as defending. These two are no different. Rafael in particular is a good crosser of the ball. They are both lively, fast, tricky and strong – attributes that would make for useful stand-in wingers. At Tottenham, Gareth Bale has adapted brilliantly from full back to left midfield so maybe the idea isn’t as mad as first thought.
From the midfield there are in my opinion only two players who could play wide – Fletcher and Anderson. Darren Fletcher has of course played wide before for United. When he was first breaking into the first-team he was often put out on the wing; however the injury to Carrick and the fact he has a good partnership with Scholes suggests this is unlikely. Anderson who always just seems happy to play is another option. It may in fact encourage him to re-find some of his skills and attacking attributes that we don’t often see. The long-shot choice from midfield might be Darron Gibson, simply because he is a good crosser of the ball.
From the strikers there is only really Wayne Rooney. He played wide a lot in a 4-3-3 to accommodate a free role for Ronaldo in 2007/08 and 2008/09. The form of Berbatov and the partnership he could potentially have with Chicharito means that Rooney out wide could be a possibility. Chicharito did end last night out on the wing I presume because he’s pacey but I can’t imagine there is much chance of him being asked to start there.
Out on loan: At present there are three first team players out on loan who could all play wide. Whether there are recall clauses in their contracts is unknown but Welbeck, Diouf and Cleverley all would provide good cover. Cleverley seems the player most likely to be recalled if possible and I’d suggest he’d be the best option out of anyone suggested already.
Youth: There are players in the Reserves and Academy who may see this as an opportunity to sneak onto the substitutes bench now. After all, Ryan Giggs made his debut for the first team aged 17. Of the youth players I’d like to see Magnus Eikrem played. Although not normally a wide player he is able to fill in nicely out wide as I recently highlighted. Hopefully we will see Eikrem start for the first team at Scunthorpe next week. Other than Eikrem, in the Reserves squad there is Nick Ajose, Robbie Brady (an Irish U21 international) and potentially Oliver Norwood (a Northern Irish full international) who is often compared to David Beckham because of his free kick and crossing technique. Cameron Stewart and Danny Drinkwater are both currently out on loan at Yeovil and Cardiff respectively but are both wide players (although Drinkwater is equally comfortable in the middle). Finally from the Academy one could consider Etzaz Hussain, Ravel Morrison, Charni Ekangamene and providing he gets international clearance, Gyliano van Velzen – recently signed from Ajax he seems a very exciting left sided winger.
Transfer: The other option would be to sign someone either permanently or on loan in January. A loan deal may suit the club nicely if the right player became available.
I’d like to reiterate that I’m not suggesting any of the mentioned players should be starting ahead of Giggs, Nani or Park but we will need some cover and some players to play out of position at times. We are fortunate that we have a large and versatile squad with many players capable of covering numerous positions – it’s just a shame that they must be used as a result of such a horrific injury.
From all the Stretford End team, we wish Antonio Valencia a speedy recovery.