Manchester United took a hard earned 3 points home from St. James’ Park after their 2-0 win over Newcastle United the week before last. It was United’s first clean sheet in the Premier League since a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in November despite some scary counter-attacking play from the Magpies. Phil Jones and Victor Lindelöf saw their fair share of calls to action, and full-backs Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia had their hands full getting back as well. The United captain has had some poor performances this season, bringing his status as a starter into question, and even though the Red Devils came away with the win, it’s pretty clear that the Ecuadorian is losing his touch.
Valencia’s touches against Newcastle came almost exclusively from wide right in United’s half. This does mean he stayed in his position, but also demonstrates how one dimensional he was. His passing rarely made a difference, and often he only received the ball when possession was moving back and forth across the back line of the United formation. His legs aren’t what they used to be either. He’s noticeably slower than he used to be, and he doesn’t venture forward as often as fans would like to see from their right back. He’s had a fine career at Old Trafford, but it’s time to move on to the two best options at the moment, Ashley Young and United’s new man for the job, Diogo Dalot.
Dalot didn’t feature often under José Mourinho, but when he did he put in noticeable work. His enterprising runs forward and eye for passing made United much more dangerous than they were without him. He is not without his faults, such as being caught out of position on a few occasions, but his speed and forward thinking approach to the job makes him an ideal replacement for the long serving Ecuadorian. Dalot has a bright future, but that future may need to be sooner than anticipated.
Ashley Young, United’s first solution to Antonio Valencia’s injuries this season, is another solid option to take over at right-back. He isn’t the most promising option for the future, but the squad’s vice captain has proved a reliable option at both full back positions for club and country over the past year, and his services will be useful for the immediate future.
Following Valencia’s last start against Newcastle, it is notable that Dalot was preferred at right-back in the FA Cup tie against Reading. Given all the changes for the fixture, this could have been seen as squad rotation. But in the next match — United’s biggest so far under Solskjaer — it was Young who lined up, while Valencia did not even make the squad.
The January transfer window is open, but it’s unlikely that Ed Woodward will conduct much business. United rarely make major moves at the mid-season mark, and the last one hasn’t worked out too well thus far. On top of that, caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said he doesn’t expect much business to take place, which is understandable for a club with a temporary manager. Squad depth is an issue, but it seems as though the current options of Young and Dalot, as well as reservist Matteo Darmian, will have to do until the summer comes.
Perhaps there is still more to see of Valencia under Solskjaer’s guidance. He’s only put in one shift against Newcastle, and he could just need time to shake off the old habits of staying back when attacking. However, it’s clear his athleticism isn’t what it used to be, and time is undefeated against athletes. It’s time to move on permanently from Valencia to maximize the already effective changes Solskjaer has brought to Old Trafford.