Why Antonio Valencia Is Under Most Pressure for Man Utd After Draw with Burnley

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 30:  Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United and Matthew Taylor of Burnley battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Manchester United at Turf Moor on August 30, 2014 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on April 2, 2012 in Blackburn, England. (Photo
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There are a number of contenders for the Manchester United player most under pressure after the Red Devils' lacklustre draw with Burnley, but Antonio Valencia might just be the one in deepest trouble.

Juan Mata had a poor game, as did Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, and their positions are complicated by the news that Radamel Falcao has agreed a move to United, per BBC Sport.

However, Valencia's performances have been a genuine worry for some time, and there are currently few visible signs of encouragement.

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 19:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United competes with Giannis Maniatis of Olympiacos during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second round match between Manchester United and Olympiacos FC at Old Trafford on March 19, 20
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

When the Ecuadorian was at his best for United, he had a spell in which he appeared, to use the classic football cliche, unplayable.

In 2012 he was voted Players' Player and Fans' Player of the Year at the Manchester United end-of-season awards. And little wonder. With four goals and 13 assists in the league, and an average of 2.4 key passes per game, per WhoScored.com, that season was Valencia's best in United red, by a long chalk. 

He has not got close to double figures of assists since, five assists in the 2012/13 season and three last time out, in a side that was set up to prioritise wing play.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 11, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo b
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

He recorded an assist in United's game against Sunderland, from a cross that struck a defender and ended up in Juan Mata's path. However, his crossing was not good overall, all four attempted crosses being recorded as failed.

Things got worse against Burnley, where he had a good deal of possession but offered next to no threat. All 12 of his attempted crosses were recorded as failed, and from memory it would be generous to suggest that three of them were "good" crosses.

Not all "good" crosses find their man, but this was not a case of strikers being unable to get on the end of high-quality supply.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United competes with Stephen Quinn of Hull City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on May 6, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Ph
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Valencia was at his best, his "go-to" move was to burn past defenders with a combination of pace and strength. Once he had done so he had a dangerous range of crossing, some fizzed low into the box, some more measured.

He does not take players on with anything like the same regularity now. Against Burnley he completed zero take-ons, in spite of considerable possession. He had 97 touches, more than any United player other than Jonny Evans, per WhoScored.com again. His cross map shows numerous tiny arrows, which were all crosses he fired in to the nearest defender, usually at high speed.

Sometimes those attempts resulted in a set piece for United, but the apparent reluctance to attempt to beat his man was a far cry from Valencia at his best.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford on September 17, 2013 in Man
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Of course, his duties in Louis van Gaal's formation are not just based on his attacking contribution. He made 43 percent of his tackles, blocked three passes and made a clearance

While he may have been reasonably effective defensively, he was an enormous part of United's attacking problem. Burnley's defenders dropped deep and crowded the middle of the pitch, limiting the options for interplay between Mata, Rooney and Van Persie, forcing the ball out wide.

They could do so with impunity, given United's profligacy from the wings. Ashley Young was as responsible as Valencia, but unlike the Ecuadorian, it is hard to imagine Young being first-choice when United have a squad with fewer injuries.

Valencia, on the other hand, will be required to step up his game. Falcao, Rooney and Van Persie will need supply, and currently the team is set up for Valencia to be a crucial part of providing it.

His performances will need to improve. Given the transfer activity that has gone on, people's attention is likely to be elsewhere, but an improvement in Valencia's form is absolutely vital to United.


All statistics per Squawka.com unless where otherwise stated.