In the world of modern football, Antonio Valencia’s name is never mentioned amongst the elites of defending today. He’s never even considered as a top quality, let alone world class, in fact, he’s just not considered at all. The Ecuadorian is an undervalued asset in today’s market, and there are not many like him in the world. He’s dependable, reliable and a consistent component of José Mourinho’s steamrolling machine.
After executing a jaw-dropping half volley against Everton on Sunday, the whole world is now abuzz about the exploits of Antonio Valencia. It’s only now that the 32-year old’s match contributions are being brought to the forefront. Because he doesn’t score goals on a regular basis, he doesn’t get his share of headlines, meaning defenders like Sergio Ramos & Gerard Pique take all the plaudits instead. But without Antonio Valencia, Manchester United wouldn’t have the foundation to challenge for this year’s Premier League title.
For several seasons now, Valencia has consistently been Manchester United’s best performer, last season many viewed him as the player of the season in a dire campaign. José Mourinho described the Ecuadorian as the best right-back in the world last year, and everybody laughed at him, now they understand what he was saying. He’s an unstoppable force in attack and an immovable object in defence. He’s the perfect blend between physical dominance and technical competency.
The Ecuadorian was initially brought to the club by Sir Alex Ferguson as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo; things haven’t turned out that way. Instead, he’s become the club’s best RB of this generation. Many thought after Gary Neville retired in 2011 that the club would never have another finely balanced full-back like him. Instead, Valencia took that bar to new heights we never thought possible.
Valencia is not necessarily a loud or flamboyant figure; he’s a player that speaks through his actions on the pitch and unrivalled work rate. He’s best known for his tireless work rate up and down the right flank, dribbling and relentless pace. Because of such attributes, Valencia is almost impossible to beat in a 1v1, allowing him to focus on his attacking work rate more. That’s why José Mourinho now favours him in United’s build-up play, often giving him attacking freedom while the left-back stays behind.
In 293 PL appearances, Antonio Valencia has kept 93 clean sheets, scored 22 goals, made 697 tackles, won 158 games and provided 45 assists. In a more detailed look at his defensive performance, Valencia has won 395 50/50s, won 1,545 duels, won 206 aerial battles and made 380 interceptions. He’s the ever-present rock that bails Manchester United out of trouble, and when he can’t, David De Gea does instead.
In a Premier League filled with competent right-backs like Kyle Walker and Caesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Valencia’s performances suggest he may be the best of the lot. If not the best, he’s certainly in the conversation and leap years ahead of overrated right-backs like Hector Bellerín and Seamus Coleman.