Antonio Valencia – pace, craft and unplayable

Antonio Valencia

Author: Stretford_End

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Franco Baresi once said of the legendary Diego Maradona “We had to be very well organised; put pressure on him, doubling up, tripling up even to limit his talents. Because if it was one-on-one, you’d lose.”. Now, I’m not comparing the brilliance of Antonio Valencia to the unquantifiable genius of the Argentinean World Cup winner – but in recent months, the surging Ecuadorian is a sorry sight for any retreating left back who simply can’t deal with the pace of United’s number 25. His signing in 2009 may have not be met with the same hysteria that greeted Ronaldo’s arrival at the Bernabeu, however his qualities have been there for all to see since signing from Wigan for £18million. Here we look at Valencia’s season so far and what he brings to United’s play.

Despite breaking his leg against Rangers early in his second full season at the club, Valencia went on to play a significant role in United’s nineteenth title triumph – dislodging the excellent Nani, on the right handside, towards the end of the campaign.

The Ecuadorian featured in his first European Cup final at Wembley, where United were soundly beaten 3-1 by the excellent Barcelona. Valencia had a poor game, however it was mainly down to Barcelona’s movement that pulled United players all out of position, rather than him simply ‘not being up for it’. Valencia is United’s leading assist maker in the Premier League with 11 in total, notching up another two against Wolves on Sunday.

Bricki put together an excellent post in the January of last year, that foresaw the impact Valencia would have in the title race, labelling the winger United’s “Ace in the pack”.

Comparison with Andrei Kanchelskis
Andrei Kanchelskis was one of my all time favourite players. He would roast opposing full backs through sheer pace as oppose to the trickery many reds were accustomed to in recent years through Ronaldo and Nani. Kanchelskis scored some amazing solo goals, with the goal in the 94 semi-final replay against Oldham at Maine Road as his stand out goal for me. Valencia will most often than not attempt to go on the outside of the left back, where as Nani will start out in a wide area and cut in side onto his other foot. Kanchelskis was the same as Valencia, bursting down the right hand side and delivering a cross to be headed home or getting to the byline to tap a low pass across the six yard box.

Despite his swift exit, I think many reds remember the Ukrainian’s stint at Old Trafford as being very successful indeed. His hattrick in the 5-0 drumming of Manchester City on cold November evening will always remain as our fondest memory, but he was a proper old school winger – much like Valencia. They both give United great width with blistering pace – two key components to launch a counter attack. Those early years in the 90s when Andrei was at the club were magical and he was a big part of it all the success, especially in the double winning season.

It was disappointing how it all ended in the summer of 1995, with some crazy stories branded around as to why he had to go. I assume that Hughes was always going to be surplus to requirements, with the purchase of Andy Cole the January previous and the emerging Paul Scholes – who at the time was more of a frontman than a midfield visionary that he later developed into. Paul Ince was excellent in the 94/95 season, but as we’ve found out from Fergie over the years – if someone believes they’re bigger than the club, then out they go. The lure of the lira from Internazionale was no doubt a very tempting factor to one of England’s better midfielders at the time – so it worked out well for both parties, with Roy Keane stepping out of the shadows of Robson (who left the season previous) and the self proclaimed ‘Guvnor’. Kanchelskis left for Goodison and then got injured against United, following a challenge with Lee Sharpe if I remember rightly, and never recaptured that magical form he found at Old Trafford.

Valencia could be even better
In football its very common for players to be ‘flavour of the month’. For instance, it was quite laughable to assume that United didn’t need Wesley Sneijder, you know World Cup finalist, European Cup winner and one of Europe’s finest playmakers – as we had a ready made youngster waiting to step up in Tom Cleverley – a ‘compliment’ that a youngster breaking through doesn’t need. There is a lot of fuss over Valencia of late based upon his excellent performances – however, I have always been a fan of the former Wigan man. Looking back at old blog posts, the 2010 League Cup final saw an excellent performance from Valencia, where I first compared him to the Ukrainian and touched upon his versatility.

In a number of matches, Sir Alex has deployed Valencia as a right back – with Nani playing in front of him. No doubt this is an attacking tactic when United are chasing a match, but it is credit to Valencia that is gets his head down and does exactly what the manager asks of him. First priority is to defend, but modern day full backs are required to get up and down so much more, especially with wingers drifting inside as Nani does (someone must provide the width). His pace and movement can also help to prevent opposing sides using their fullbacks as an attacking outlet. For example, Valencia didn’t give Cole a kick in the 2009/10 clash at Stamford Bridge, pressing him so far back Cole couldn’t get out of his half. Again, some players might not be up for the task of having to focus on ‘stopping someone else playing’ rather than playing yourself – but not Valencia, he plays for the team.

‘Unplayable’ is a strong word in football. It means your opponent doesn’t stand a chance. With Maradona’s technical, physical and mental strength – he was ‘unplayable’ for many years and as Baresi said, “you would lose in a one on one”. Valencia is obviously nowhere near the class of Argentina’s legendary number ten, however when he is up against a left back, any left back, I now fully expect him to leave him for dead on the outside. Valencia has been one of Ferguson’s most astute signings. Ridiculous comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo were left for people outside the club to mention, anyone that has seen Valencia play in the past two and a half years will know the quality the lad has.

8 Comments on Antonio Valencia – pace, craft and unplayable

  1. If Valencia was flashy in the media he wouldve been used in the same breath as Bale, Ribery and co, even though hes much better than them.

    Does everything with minimal fuss and always gives 100pcnt, such a perfect player.

  2. His only problem is he does NOT have/use his left foot, if he did he would be in anyones class:) and its sad he cant do so

  3. valencia is a good player in great form at the moment but he’s nowhere near as good as kanchelskies. the fact he’s possibly our most important player in the run in says more about how poor our options and and how mediocre the league is. valencia is possibly the most one sided player i have ever seen. whilst kanchelskies left foot was’t as strong as his right, he did score goals with it. plus andrei was much faster, could cross the ball better and scored more goals. i’m glad we’ve got valencia but kanchelskies was a different class.

  4. Valencia is much better than Kanchelskis, hes stronger, faster and im sure Valencia would kill Kanchelskis if they were to meet on a pitch, ask any of his victims like Cole.

    It doesnt matter if hes 1 sided and has a weak left foot, he gets the job done, what more do you want? Plus he doesnt have such a weak foot as people claim, he has scored plenty of left footers with Wigan and Ecuador. He has mastered his abilities as such that opponents know what he’l do but cant stop him, unlike Nani, so unpredictable he confuses himself.

    Im sure if Valencia got caught in the media often, had a fame hungry WAG(s), built a statue of himself, slept around much or had open links with the mafia, he would be talked in the same or even higher breath than Bale, Kanchelski, Ribery, Sneijder and probably even Beckham, even though he is MUCH BETTER than them.

  5. Valaencia is a fantastic player. He is better than Nani and Ashley Young in terms of speed and crossing of the ball, but Kanchelskis is better than Valencia. In short I totally agree with Bon – very well said

  6. Valencia is a very good player in-form. His greatest strength is that he usually chooses the right option and chooses that option early, so preventing the opposiion from recovering, (Nani take note). He is quick, strong, has great vision, he has an awareness of where team mates are at all times. If a team mate is better placed he will pass to him, if there isn’t a better placed team mate he will run at speed at the opposition and this terrifies them. His pace and strength beats people, rather than any trickiness. When he crosses or passes he does so to somebody rather than to a general area and so he is generally more effective than other players. His interplay with Rooney is a great asset.

    He has many of the same qualities that Kanchelskis had. Kanchelskis had amazing close control running with the ball at pace, in this I have seen no one better in a Untied shirt in my time, (’75 to date). Kanchelskis failed on the big European stage against Barcelona in the Nou Camp in 1984, Valencia failed against Barcelona in last years final. For me Kanchelskis was world class, Valencia isn’t quite that, but he isn’t far away at his best. On Sunday he was magnificent.

  7. I wonder why Valencia’s one-footedness is something that people bash him with; while Maradona, arguably the best player ever, is equally single-footed (left).

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Insight: How Antonio Valencia slayed Wolves | Football Follower
  2. Post-season thoughts, hopes, doom, gloom and Welbeck (and Carrick) love | Manchester United Blog | The Stretty Rant

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