Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Antonio Valencia

Michael Regan

Antonio Valencia's first season in the famous Manchester United No.7 shirt did not go nearly as well as everyone had hoped.

The Busby Babe continues with the seventh installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is Antonio Valencia.

* Manchester United 20|13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

The 2011-12 season was a brilliant one for the Ecuadorian and him being voted player of the year by his teammates was a testament to that. In the latter half of that season, the winger was unplayable much of the time. The always wonderful ManUtd24 then described Valencia's devastating approach from the right touchline this way:

"His stutter, a sort of half-dribble, Garrincha-esque and all, is just phase one. Phase two is the drop of the shoulder and three, well, the sort of thing he showed against Blackburn Rovers in the recent 2-0 win; the low cross for Javier Hernandez which nearly crept in from the post or, better yet, that fully-intentional wondergoal. He is frighteningly efficient."

With the exception of his horrific ankle injury in September of 2010, the winger's first three seasons at United had gone very well. He had now been given the famed No.7 shirt last summer and the hope was that he could continue providing the same sort of terrific performances that endeared him to so many United fans.

What we got

What we got wasn't good. After describing Valencia as 'Garrincha-esque' last season, ManUtd24 recently had this to say about the Ecuadorian:

"What's more worrying is that it's difficult to pin down why [Valencia had such a poor season]. For a player to become worse is expected; heck, Valencia is like any other winger, cursed from birth, but from one season to another and by this much? At 27? For such a superior United side? Is Garth Crooks more entertaining than he is thick? To simply put it down to confidence seems lazy, regardless if true, because it's not really known how much confidence affects a player and then, if so, why it has such an impact. Does it suddenly erase natural ability? It could all just be a coincidence; that instead of having five or six forgettable games like he had last season, he's had 25 or 26 out of his 30-odd this time around. What about the change of shirt numb- no."

VALENCIA

GS (sub)

G

A

Avg P

Pass %

KP

C

C %

DRB

FW

TKL

INT

Prem

24 (6)

1

5

35.9

84.1%

1.4

1.3

23.9%

1.4

0.7

1.9

0.8

CL

2 (2)

0

0

28.0

83.9%

0.5

1.0

17.4%

2.8

0.5

0.5

0.8

* GS: games started (substituted appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = accurate crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, DRB = successful dribbles per game, FW = fouls won per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game

One should always be cautious when examining football statistics, however, it's alarming when a comparison is made between this season's and those from 2011-12 (22 starts and 5 substitution appearances): 1 goal to last season's 4, 5 assists to 13, 1.4 chances created per game to 2.4, 1.3 successful crosses per game to 1.7, and a 23.9% cross accuracy rate to 25.3%. Nearly all across the board, the winger displayed statistical regression.

Valencia's style of play is fairly simple, and it hasn't really changed at all: he hugs the right touchline waiting to receive and when he does, he uses a combination of pace, power, and 'a sort of half-dribble [stutter]' in an effort to elude defenders so that he can send crosses in from near the byline. One reason why he's typically an accurate crosser of the ball is because he doesn't tend to deliver early from near the touchline, but rather, he sends in relatively short-distanced crosses after he beats his marker and picks out a runner. The problem this season, though, is that he's not regularly beating those defenders anymore. And as ManUtd24 points out, it's difficult to diagnose why this is.

There were some positives from Valencia's season. His partnership with right-back Rafael is a wonderful one because they balance each other out well. As you're likely aware, the Brazilian is an adventurous right-back that loves to join the attack. The Ecuadorian is a very solid defender for a winger and astute in a positional-sense. The duo do well to share attacking and defensive responsibilities -- Rafael screaming at Wayne Rooney at the Bernabeu when the Englishman was deployed as a right-winger is because the two had little understanding and weren't compact enough defending against Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao. Furthermore, in the first-half of the season when a counterattacking 4-4-1-1 system was often deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 'big games', United were devastating down the right side on the break -- this is something Valencia deserves credit for.

For the first few months of the season, it was clear that the winger wasn't in the same impressive form that he was in last season -- but I think most thought he would improve. Instead, he declined and he eventually was dropped regularly for important games. Valencia's poor form this season, along with that of his fellow wingers Ashley Young and Nani, is the main reason why United lacked effective width through most of the winter and spring. It's also a primary reason why Fergie experimented with a diamond midfield at times. Towards the end of the season though, Valencia had a few decent performances and he offered hints that he might be finding his old form again. That's the hope at least...

What's next?

Tony V probably ain't leaving Old Trafford this summer. David Moyes clearly stresses the importance of width in attack and he likes reliable winger/full-back partnerships -- he'll surely appreciate the nice understanding and balance that Valencia and Rafael provide together. The Ecuadorian, though, will have to produce or he may find the incoming Wilfried Zaha ahead of him in the pecking order on the right side of attack.

There's also a tactical drawback to Valencia: he can only play on the right side so he can't switch flanks in the middle of a match in order to exploit a certain match-up like Zaha, Nani, Young or even Ryan Giggs can. Even when he was in good form during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, Fergie often would deploy Nani and Park Ji-sung in 'big games' because both gave the gaffer the opportunity to switch the wingers around.

Next season will likely be make-or-break for Valencia at United. He'll be 28-years-old in August and he has two years remaining on his current contract. If he falters again, the club may look to get something for him next summer rather than letting him go for free the following one. If he shines again in the fall and winter, perhaps he'll be awarded with an extension on his current contract with the assumption that his poor 2012-13 season was a one-off.

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