Antonio Valencia Injury: Nine Players Manchester United Need To Step Up
Paul Scholes chips a ball out wide to the right. Antonio Valencia—the £16 million winger from Wigan, brought in to replace Cristiano Ronaldo—settles it, then launches a beautiful cross into the box. On the end of another perfect Valencia cross is striker Wayne Rooney, who calmly heads the ball into the goal for yet another goal scored from his head.
This scene happened often during Manchester United's 2009/10 campaign. Many people attribute Valencia's beautiful crosses to being the reason as to why Rooney suddenly became deadly with his head.
However, this season has started much slower for Rooney, with just one goal in all competitions so far, and with the goal coming on a penalty kick.
Much worse for Manchester United happened on Sept. 15 in a Champions League match against Rangers, though, when Valencia went down with a broken leg. The play was so gruesome, replays were not even shown during the match.
Fears immediately went out that Valencia's season would be done. A friend of mine who went through a similar injury said it would take at least a year for Valencia to even be remotely close to the way he was. While Sir Alex Ferguson has come out and said Valencia could be back by February, it is safe to assume that this is wishful thinking and that United will be without him for a long time.
These are nine players, with one imported option, who need to do a good job stepping in and replacing Valencia if United are to continue to compete this season.
With United now down primarily to three first-team wingers—Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs, and Nani—the three of them will be seeing a lot of time on the pitch. The man who will see his time increased the most will be Park.
Park has always been a hard worker who can chase players around and mark them defensively, which has been a great asset to United in Europe, while also chiming in with some goals in big games.
However, Park will now see increased time on the pitch and is going to have to do more than just run around and chase people. For United to be successful they will need Park to provide at least some attacking threat, instead of fading into oblivion during the United attack as he often does.
Park was almost non-existent in the Manchester United attack against Rangers. United are going to need more out of Park if he is to see more action on the left wing this season.
The most important player to replace Valencia will be the player who has already been fighting to steal appearances away from Valencia to begin with, Nani.
Last season the deadly combination was Valencia's cross to Rooney's head. So far this season it seems that the new deadly combination is Nani's cross to Dimitar Berbatov, where he uses any part of his body or any type of kick to get the ball into the back of the net.
Nani had been tabbed as a player with the ability to play on either the right or the left wing, and often Sir Alex Ferguson would dispatch Nani on the left. However, a move to the right wing last season saw Nani take off on a tremendous run of form. With Valencia now being out of the team, Nani will have plenty more opportunities to shine down the right-hand side. Nani must take advantage of these chances and play at the high level that he has shown himself capable of playing at.
While currently injured, Gabriel Obertan is going to get an opportunity for first team appearances when he gets back. Obertan played very well during United's preseason tour of North America, and if he can reproduce that form for United it can make them very dangerous.
If Obertan can provide an attacking threat down the left side, it will give United the chance to rest Ryan Giggs more, while keeping Nani out on the right. Furthermore it would provide the chance to keep Park on the bench if the game requires attacking players.
Obertan has looked nervous during his few first-team competitive appearances so far for United, and I don't think much is expected of him this season. If he could provide an attacking threat it will be a major bonus for United.
The Brazilian midfielder has just returned from injury at a great time for United.
Anderson, who has fallen in and out of favor with boss Ferguson, will now be presented with a great opportunity for himself. With Michael Carrick still out injured, Anderson will be given the chance to assert himself at the center of the midfield.
With Valencia out as well, the Red Devils will need to find other ways to get the ball to their strikers—Rooney and Berbatov. If Anderson can show the flashes of creativity that he has had in the past, it could be a great asset to United.
Furthermore, with Anderson being left-footed he could also be played down the left-hand side, as United will continue to look for a player to play on the left who could create and attack when Giggs isn't playing. Anderson could very well be given a shot to be that guy.
Ultimately Anderson is going to need to step up his nose for the goal. United are going to need to get better production then just the one goal in three seasons that Anderson has provided for the club. If Anderson doesn't start scoring, his chances could become few and far between.
Rafael Da Silva
I can see your eyebrows raising with this inclusion, as there are obvious questions and points to be made against it.
"Rafael is a defender!"
"He has barely even played this season!"
Yes, those points are both true, but Rafael is a tremendous attacking right back. He has great crossing abilities and has scored two goals already for the club. Eventually he will be given his chance at right back, and if he stays fit, he will likely win the first choice right back job like he has the past two seasons before injuries derailed him.
If Ferguson wants to tinker with his lineup, provide an attacking force from the right side while still having defensive cover, he can try playing a few matches with Park on the right-hand side with Rafael playing at right back. Rafael can push forward to provide an attack and a good cross, while Park can help cover back and play defensively on the right side. This way Park is still playing his usual role, while Rafael is providing an attack from the right side.
This scenario is unlikely, but I believe it should be tried, as it just might work.
Gibson is another central midfielder with a chance to make an impact in Valencia's absence. He will be given chances by the manager to be the man in the middle with the first team for United. He will add another scoring dimension with his Paul Scholes-esqe powerful leg providing shots from distance.
What Gibson needs to do is improve his creativity and passing. If he is able to slip passes ahead to the strikers instead of shooting every time, he can become very dangerous to defenders.
During Manchester United's preseason tour of Asia before the 2009/10 season, Ferguson experimented with playing Gibson on the right wing. It would not shock me to see Fergie try this strategy out a few times to allow him to get Gibson's strong leg on the field. He may also think of spelling Darren Fletcher on the right and putting Gibson in Fletcher's spot in the middle.
As United's new signing, Bebe wasn't expected to have much of an impact at Old Trafford this season, but the situation has now changed.
With training going well, Ferguson has already confirmed that Bebe will play a part in United's first Carling Cup match against Scunthorpe United.
While Bebe likely won't make another appearance in the first team until the next Carling Cup match, assuming United get past Scunthorpe, if he impresses during the few outings he get he could start to see some Premier League appearances thrown his way. United will be looking for all the help they can get on the wings.
I am aware Cleverly is out on a full-season loan to Wigan, but it is time to start thinking long-term.
It is still unknown just how long Valencia will be out, and it could creep into next season. Despite Fergie saying he could be back by February, it would not shock me to see him out much longer than that.
After all, I rarely trust the United boss when it comes to injury news anymore, as I have seen him say that Rooney will be out three weeks only to see him start the following weekend. I have also heard that Owen Hargreaves is very close to coming back about four times already, and with a leg injury it would not be unheard-of for Valencia to have at least one Hargreaves-like setback.
More importantly, do we even know how Valencia will be when he gets back? It could take him almost a year of playing to regain the form he had before the injury. He may never be able to regain that form, for all we know. He will almost certainly be more susceptible to re-injuring his leg, and that is where Cleverly comes in.
Cleverly was beyond impressive during the preseason for United to the point that Fergie said he would not send the lad out on loan because he could contribute at Old Trafford this season. Many were happy to see Fergie change his mind and send him out on loan, but now the pressure is on for this loan to be a valuable chunk of experience for Cleverly.
If Cleverly was ready to contribute at Old Trafford this season, then it is very important that Cleverly learns a lot and improves during his time at Wigan.
If he was ready for action this season as Fergie said he was, it will be very important that next season he could be used and counted on for regular action in the event that Valencia has not recovered from his injury. Cleverly has the ability to become a reliable replacement for Valencia down the right side next season.
If you cannot fill the spot from within, why not bring in a player to replace Valencia?
If United fail to find an adequate replacement by the time the transfer window re-opens in January, Landon Donovan would become a tasty thought.
Donovan is coming off a very impressive performance for the United States in the World Cup and was very impressive during his loan spell at Everton last season. It was no secret that David Moyes was looking to bring the American to Goodison Park full-time; however, the price tag of £11 million was too high for Everton.
It is no secret that Manchester United do not have as much money, as Ferguson says they do when he then falls back on his "there is no value in the players right now" excuse.
However, Donovan both value for his price and is relatively cheap. If United could afford to spend £7.5 million on an unknown player in Bebe, they surely should be able to spend £11-12 million on a known player in Donovan. Putting Donovan in Manchester United's system would provide great benefit for both Donovan and United.