Valencia and Nani To Play Against Marseille: Boon or Boon?
When Antonio Valencia was subbed off after sustaining an injury against Rangers earlier this season, Manchester United fans around the world all held their breath hoping for the best.
The Ecuadorian, who moved from Wigan in 2009, won the hearts of the people with his quick feet, effective crossing and positive attitude. At the start of the 2010-11 season, Valencia was among those who would surely have an impact on United's season.
When news of a long-term injury came, a cold wind blew over the city of Manchester. After suffering a shaky start and Chelsea galloping ahead, things looked bleak and difficult.
But Fergie's Fledglings have coped well and now see themselves sitting pretty at the top of the Barclays Premier League and in the semifinals of the FA Cup.
It hasn't been vintage United as such, but even with a less than impressive away record and with so many games thrown away at the death, the Devils have asserted a certain authority over their rivals.
The season hit a major roadblock last week after Chelsea came from behind to win at Stamford Bridge and Liverpool outclassed United at Anfield. The five-point lead has been reduced to three, with second-placed Arsenal having a game in hand.
Things got worse as Nani was stretchered off after a reckless tackle by Jamie Carragher and the worst was feared.
With a weakened squad, United hosted Arsenal in the quarterfinal game against Arsenal, who themselves were having a torrid couple of weeks.
Eyebrows were raised when the teamsheet read Rafael and Fabio as the wingers and O'Shea at the centre of midfield. Luckily, the gamble paid off and United eased past the Gunners to move into the semifinals.
More than the win though, what excited fans was the return of Antonio Valencia. One expected him to be a little rusty and slow after a long-term absence, but the winger didn't show any signs of discomfort as he glided the ball to his teammates and went past defenders with efficiency.
His crossing wasn't all that perfect, but that didn't deny him an opportunity to showcase some speed and guile to leave the Arsenal defence behind.
United were having a tough time on the second wing. Fortunately, Nani has been on fire this season with a stunning 15 assists and nine goals to his name. (Sir) Ryan Giggs has been filling in brilliantly, but his old legs don't run as they did anymore and often has to be subbed well before the final whistle.
Ji Sung Park was having a good season, before he had to leave for his Asia Cup tourney and then suffered an injury on return.
Rooney, Obertan and Bebe have all been ordinary this season, and their services on the wing have been negligible.
The thought of having Nani and Valencia on the same field is mouth-watering for any fan. The thought itself failed to materialize in the head a few months ago after all the luck the club had been facing on the injury front. And that trend almost continued against Liverpool.
Seeing that Valencia seems ready for big matches again, and Nani being out for just a week, today's clash against Marseille will be a competitive one.
After a really dull performance at the Valedore, the return of the two wingers should boost the boy's confidence and set themselves up for a win.
Although, one gets the feeling that Nani will take his time to settle. Even if it is just one week, you cannot deny that Nani can be a bit of a delicate darling at times, and while the cut he suffered was horrific, the one-week absence could instead reciprocate as a month-long absence tonight.
A 0-0 first leg is always a dangerous one for the second leg's home team. A goal for Marseille will make it incredibly hard for United, but with Van Der Sar's performance at the FA Cup, its hard not to believe a clean sheet is on the cards.
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