Coming at the end of a long season, which Manchester United had to struggle to deal with countless injuries, City’s increasing financial assets, a disappointing early exit from the Champions League, and the final heartbreak of City taking the League title with 2 goals in stoppage time, there was one player who had no negative aspect to his performance. This season was definitely a standout for Antonio Valencia. He came to Manchester United from Wigan in the summer of 2009. That season, he had a breakout season for the Red Devils, as he created numerous goal scoring chances for Wayne Rooney from the wing. He had a great first season with Manchester United, earning a place in the Premier League Team of the Season. Last season, unfortunately, he suffered a broken leg on international duty that never really allowed him to make much of a contribution.
He started this season on the bench, while Nani and newly acquired Ashley Young filled the starting winger positions at the start of the new season. It wasn’t until September 14th that he made his first appearance of the new season, in a Champion’s League Group Stage game against Benfica. Unfortunately, Manchester United suffered from numerous injuries in multiple positions which quickly lead to Antonio Valencia starting most games. As the injuries started to mount for Manchester United, Antonio Valencia was deployed at right-back. Instead of providing a mere stop-gap measure, he played well in an unfamiliar position. Instead of just providing a forward threat, his defensive work was equally good. He ended up starting 5 league games at right-back, while covering the position as a substitute several more times.
After splitting his time between the right wing, and as the right-back, it didn’t take long for the Equadorian to get back into the form that impressed many Red Devil supporters two years ago. His blistering pace, combining with his excellent passing and crossing caused nightmare for many opposing left-backs. On the 10th of December, he contributed 3 assists in a 4-1 United win over Wolverhampton. This started a run of 5 games in which he picked up 1 goal, and 7 assists. Just as United was going into a congested schedule around Christmas, Valencia hit his best form.
With Antonio Valencia playing with the best form on the team, the right side became the focal point for most of United’s attack. Even with the opposition focusing on shutting him down, he was still the catalyst for many Red Devil goals. On the 22nd of January, he scored a goal and assisted for the other in a 2-1 victory away to Arsenal. As the end of the season approached, his form dipped slightly over the impossibly high standard he’d set in December and January. But he still powered United to victory, as he scored a goal and put in 2 assists on March 18th, 2012, over Wolverhampton. Then, 2 weeks later, he put in his goal of the season against Blackburn. The shot, from a near impossible angle, left Paul Robinson looking helpless. In addition to his goal of the season, he contributed another assist in another Man of the Match performance.
Even thought he didn’t play in the first month of the season, Antonio Valencia should be an easy choice as Player of the Season for every Manchester United fan. While some players had exceptional months, or a good run of games, only Valencia was able to play at such a high standard over so many games. In a season when Manchester United struggled to generate any offense from the middle of the pitch, it became easy for the opposition to focus on shutting down United’s wingers. But the Ecuadorian was able to take on the challenge, and contribute the second most assists in the league. With players such as Nani, Ashley Young, Park Ji-Sung, and even Danny Welbeck, the fact that Antonio Valencia was a no-brainer on the right-wing should tell you all you need to know.
By RangeRooney Follow @RangeRooney
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