Has Antonio Valencia nailed down the right-back role at Manchester United?
Antonio Valencia has started the season in great form at right-back, establishing himself as an important part of Jose Mourinho’s plans. There were doubts about how suitable he was for Portuguese manager’s system. The former Chelsea boss has often chosen full backs that are good defensively, rather than those that contribute in the attacking half. It was expected that Matteo Darmian would be the first choice right-back this season as he fits into the profile that Mourinho normally opts for. However, Valencia has started the season well and deserves to continue in the starting eleven.
In terms of his defensive contributions, Valencia has impressed and looks to have improved already under Mourinho. Although he started as a winger, he has played at right-back for the majority of his Manchester United career and has slowly adapted to the position. This season, he has made six tackles and three interceptions, which shows that he can win the ball back. His tackling in particular has stood out and he hasn’t struggled against any of the wingers that he has come up against during the first three matches.
This will be encouraging for Mourinho as the main problem that people have had with Valencia as a right-back is when he is asked to defend. In the past, he has been rash and been the cause of many goals down the right hand side, but these errors have gradually reduced as he has adjusted to the role. Last season, he played just 14 times in the league, due to injury problems, which caused doubts about his ability to be a regular again this year. However, he looks to be full of confidence and should be the first choice right back for the foreseeable future.
The most impressive part to the Ecuadorian’s game is his ability to contribute in attack. He likes to overlap and provide the width on the right hand side. This allows Juan Mata to drop inside where he can be more influential. Valencia remains quick and can carry the ball, which marks him as one of the best attacking full backs in the league. The full-back possesses a dangerous cross and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the team, that will prove to be a real weapon this season. He provided the winning goal for the Swede in the Community Shield against Leicester and it is a combination that will lead to several goals for United.
Valencia has been given freedom to attack under Mourinho and looks to be playing his best football in recent years. He has been averaging 2.3 dribbles and 1.3 key passes over the first three matches. This displays how he can influence the game in the final third, despite being played in the right-back position. His experience as a winger has provided him with good decision making when he is attacking and that isn’t a common trait in full-backs. Valencia rarely wastes possession, with a pass accuracy of 90.5%. His team-mates know that he can be trusted with the ball and he is a good out ball to have for the midfielders.
Despite starting the season in great form, Valencia is unlikely to be the long term option for Manchester United at right-back. He is now 31 and has a chequered past with injuries. His pace that allows him to recover defensively and threaten in attack is likely to regress in the coming seasons. As a result, I’d expect Manchester United to be scouting for a right-back. That said, Valencia has proven that he can be a reliable option for Mourinho and deserves to be the first choice until at least next summer.
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