In a squad containing the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among many other world stars, it is easy to overlook someone like Antonio Valencia. But as his goal and performance against Everton again highlighted, he remains the very best in his position the Premier League has to offer.
The languid way in which he lashed a 20-yard half-volley into the top corner of Jordan Pickford’s goal sums up his contributions since joining United from Wigan Athletic in 2009. Rarely flashy but able to produce when his side need him the most, he epitomises exactly the way Jose Mourinho’s title-winning sides of years gone by have gone about their business.
Eyebrows were raised when United’s local rivals Manchester City forked out in excess of £50 million for Kyle Walker over the summer. But if that is the going rate, and despite the fact Walker has five years on his opposite number at Old Trafford, it would not be outside the realms of possibility for United to request a similar fee should any club show an interest in purchasing the one-time flying winger.
Valencia’s evolution from an attacking wideman to a dependable defensive presence on the right-hand side is one of the few success stories of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. Though Michael Carrick is officially the club captain, the midfielder’s lack of first-team opportunities means Valencia has become Mourinho’s de facto leader on the pitch. The way in which almost all of the United side interrupted his low-key celebration tells observers exactly how highly regarded he is inside the dressing room.
By full time Valencia’s importance was only highlighted further by United slipping into the old habits that dogged them last season as they spurned opportunity after opportunity. Everton old boy Lukaku proved particularly wasteful, and though he, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial added gloss to the scoreline late on in what is becoming a familiar late salvo from this United side, such poor finishing will likely cost them at some point this campaign.
In fact, were it not for the wastefulness of Wayne Rooney – who received a standing ovation from the Theatre of Dreams as he was withdrawn in the closing stages – then the pressure that has slowly begun to surround manager Ronald Koeman may have been lifted somewhat.
As it was, the former Southampton boss was likely left cursing his luck, praying for a player who can provide the same consistently high-quality performances Valencia is capable of. Having that same player slam in long-range stunners every so often would probably help too.