The 26-year-old was hit with a bad injury last season but has come back to give the Red Devils' attack another dimension - becoming one of the first names on the team-sheetCOMMENT
By John Stammers
In September 2010 Antonio Valencia was in danger of becoming a forgotten man at Manchester United, but now, with nine games left to play, he has again become a vital part of the club's Premier League push.
The 26-year-old fractured, dislocated and suffered serious ligament damage in his left ankle during the Champions League match against Rangers last season - an injury that many would have never recovered from.
Antonio Valencia is 8.0 with 188Bet to score the first goal in Manchester United's meeting with Fulham on Monday night.
At the time, although his absence was a blow, Ryan Giggs and Nani were flourishing on the flanks in an exciting United team. Valencia was not only missing out on playing in a fantastic side but must also have been wondering where he would slot back in when fully fit.
However, the winger came back better than ever and was an important member of the side that were crowned Premier League champions, becoming the first Ecuadorian ever to win the trophy and also keeping Nani out of the Champions League final starting line-up.
|MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
Valencia's last five matches
||Man Utd 2-0 Stoke
||Chelsea 3-3 Man Utd
||Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool
||Ajax 0-2 Man Utd
||Wolves 0-5 Man Utd|
In his three seasons at the DW Stadium he managed to net seven times in the league, contributing eight assists. His first season alone under Ferguson brought seven goals with the midfielder providing another 11 for others.
The 2010-11 season, as mentioned, was very much hindered by that horrific injury, but no detrimental effect seems to be present.
So far this campaign Valencia has bagged three league goals and has matched his assist count from his debut United season, despite spending another prolonged period out on the sidelines during February and March.
After suffering a slightly slow start to the season, the winger really slammed the gas down in December. He created 16 goalscoring opportunities, of which seven were converted, while recording an assist in five consecutive games - including three in the 4-1 win over Wolves.
Throughout the month he mustered a chance every 33 minutes, and things didn't stop in the New Year. His assist rate for 2012 - creating a chance every 27.4 minutes - shows Valencia is in impeccable form.
Those performances have led Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola to label him 'the best winger in the world', and that man knows what he is talking about.
As with most things, there is a knock-on effect to be seen here too. Wayne Rooney scored just two goals, both at home to Otelul Galati, in a run of 11 games for United from October until early December. Then, when Valencia's form really soared, the striker netted eight times in 10 games.
The England man had this to say when Valencia returned from his spell out with injury this month: "I was probably the happiest person in the team to see Antonio back.
|"Valencia has been a revelation ever since Sir Alex snapped him up for £16 million in the summer of 2009. He was always a very raw talent at Wigan, but his move to Old Trafford enabled him to step up to the next level."|
"Nani has created a lot of goals, but he's more about dribbling and getting shots off, whereas Antonio is more focused on getting down the line and whipping the ball in. It's a good mixture for us to have."
The winger is so direct, so quick and, for a defender, that is terrifying to face. He will get the ball and run at you, even worse, he will do it with a confidence that he is going to beat you. And what makes him stand out from players like Theo Walcott or Stewart Downing is that, more often than not, he delivers an effective final product.
That point was well proven in United's last Premier League game against Wolves.
Valencia scored once himself in a typical lightning break, he received the ball before accelerating down the field and smashing it past the keeper. Simple as that. Not to mention he provided two goals as well.
|THE RED DEVIL DELIVERS
| VALENCIA'S SEASON SO FAR
After the game Ferguson heaped the praise his way, with the United boss outlining just how key a player Valencia is.
"He could be very important," he said.
"His form before he got the injury was outstanding. Now he is back we hope he stays back fit. He is such an honest, hard-working player.
"You get two sides to Antonio. He is prepared to work really hard. He can tackle, he can run, but he can also beat a man. He has got everything really."
Perhaps his form has proved - and will continue to prove - even more important due to Young's failure to keep up his outstanding early season form.
The former Aston Villa man netted twice, and set up three, in the 8-2 thumping of Arsenal, adding to the hype from his move. But despite scoring two very important goals against Tottenham in the 3-1 win earlier this month, he hasn't really managed to hit the highs that were expected of him.
This can also be combined with Nani's reoccurring injury woes. The Portuguese is set to return soon but it seems he is destined to not stay fully fit this campaign.
However, with the run-in looking as tense as it has ever been, Sir Alex should be feeling safe in the knowledge that in Valencia, United have a player who Manchester City will find very hard to match come the potentially decisive derby on April 30.
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