It’s amazing what a difference a year can make. Well, almost at least. Back at Ewood park on the 2nd of April 2012, it seemed like United were heading closer to the 20th title with ‘that’ goal from Antonio Valencia, followed shortly by Ashley Young’s delicate finish after a well-worked move.
It was a test of their patience and character, but they passed it brilliantly. United were in the ascendancy and at that point, title number 20 looked all but sealed. “Mancini’s cracking up”, sang the United fans in the away stand.
That goal by Valencia was uncharacteristic and out of nothing, yet superb. But most importantly, it made everyone connected to Manchester United believe they have got their hands on the title. They got confident, perhaps too confident. And what followed in the following matches is now just a dire memory to all those United fans.
Fast forward 11 months, the man who scored that goal and last season’s United’s player of the year looked anything but what he was back then. We all know what he is capable of, yet it seems that he’s too afraid to show it. Contradictory to 11 months ago, he’s short on confidence. It’s not like this has been going on for 2 or 3 games, but it’s been going on for months now. He may be one of the most predictable or one-sided player that a full-back can ever face, however his ability to beat a man and put in a wonderful cross on a regular basis has reaped benefits in the form of assists. A player who is renowned for his remarkable consistency is now someway short of that tag.
For a club famous for its high-flying wingers, it’s quite ironic that out of all the positions, it’s the one department that has contributed the least. Injuries to Ashley Young and Nani throughout the season certainly didn’t help but even the full-backs has contributed more. Rafael has 3 goals and 3 assists while Patrice Evra has 4 goals and 5 assists. Comparing that to Young who only has 3 assists, Valencia 4 assists, Nani 3 goals and 2 assists, while the 39 year-old Ryan Giggs (if he is even still counted as a winger) has 4 goals and 1 assist.
Of course it isn’t fair to judge a player based solely on statistics. A better measure to how a player is doing is by looking at the contributions he is making on the matches aside from a goal and assist point of view. In the games against Real Madrid, Tottenham away, Liverpool home, most recently Chelsea at home, Valencia has started neither, Young once (halted by injuries), Nani twice, and Giggs once.
Valencia did start in the ‘big matches’ in the beginning of the season, however after the return of the other wingers and even the use of strikers in wing roles in the games against Madrid, he started none. Young showed good form that made him play against Liverpool but was forced off due to injuries. Although Giggs only started the game against Madrid, his form since the Christmas period has been excellent and he was one of United’s best players against Madrid. Nani, who had a poor start to the season, on-going contract issues with the club, and injuries is arguably the one that is performing the best out of the 4 wingers. Though for the second time, he was forced off due to a hamstring injury in the game against Chelsea that came after the harsh sending off in midweek.
It was a sad sight to see, a player who has been fighting his way back into the side must be forced off the pitch. He was replaced by Valencia, who had put in another one of his disappointing performances this season. There was a telling difference between the two. Nani showed intent and determination to beat a man and was lively throughout the game, interchanging positions, linking-up with Rafael, and putting in some wonderful crosses. His decision-making has improved over the past month and this is some of the stuff that Valencia is actually renowned off. Yet, all he did was the opposite.
It’s fair to say that over the past year, Valencia has regressed, Giggs continues to defy age despite the poor early season performances, and both Nani and Young have patches of good and bad. Yet Nani and Young, the two wingers that some United fans want out of the club for different reasons are the ones that got the most stick. On the other hand, Valencia – a player who is some way off the player he is/was goes relatively unnoticed to some. As clichéd as it may be, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. It’s quite unfair that a preceding reputation for these players clouds the judgment of some for their actual performances. But perhaps now, people will start to realize the value of those who contribute as well as feel sorry for those whose skills and attributes can only be talked about in the past tense.