With crippled wings

September 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

Life can be unaccountably and randomly cruel. A foot comes down at a slightly odd angle, catches the turf after a nothing challenge, and suddenly bones are broken, ligaments are torn, and a career is on the line. Now that we know that Antonio Valencia’s operation has been successful, all we can do is wait, hope, maybe pray if you’re that way inclined, and let time get on with what I would imagine will be, for Valencia, the longest few months of his life.

While nobody seems to be sure when he’ll return, or whether he’ll be the same player if/when he does, it’s safe to say that United will miss him. Last season, across all competitions, he contributed 7 goals and 11 assists; a pretty useful return for a first season, particularly given the boots he was being asked to fill. Indeed, arguably more impressive was the speed with which he established himself in the first team, starting 29 league games and appearing in all European games bar one.

And all of a sudden, he’s out for the season. With hindsight, of course, it’s easy to think that the Bebe money might have been better invested in match-ready cover for the flanks, but no matter now. The final upshot is that United’s options on the wings are (at least until January): Park Ji-sung, Ryan Giggs, and Nani. (In my ever-humblest, it would be optimistic in the extreme to think that either Bebe or Obertan are in a position to contribute much beyond cameo or impact appearances, except maybe in the cups.)

What does seem likely is that Nani will be installed as first-choice on the right. In the view of many it’s his best position; certainly, the right flank provides him with the natural angle to bend crosses between goalkeeper and defence, as he recently did devastatingly against Everton. There were encouraging signs throughout last season that Nani was ready to establish himself as a first-team regular, and United will need him to do so.

The other side is more interesting. For the Premier League, assuming Ferguson persists with the fluid 4-4-2 he seems to prefer for most domestic fixtures, we can expect either Park or Giggs to assume the position on the left flank. In contrast to Nani, however, their natural instinct will be to tuck in slightly, at once bolstering the midfield and giving Evra space to charge into. Which he does like to do, bless him.

In Europe, however, and in the bigger league and cup games, I have a suspicion that Valencia’s absence, coupled with Berbatov’s good form, will see Wayne Rooney return to his station on the left. Now, the most obvious consequence of this will be to send the sports desks of the red tops into hysterical conniptions, as though Rooney was being asked to trudge down the line with his spirit in manacles, swinging cross after futile cross into the empty penalty area that’s his by right.

But I suspect that the opportunity to move Rooney back to the position from which he helped United reach two European Cup (okay, Champions League) finals will prove appealing. I think an instructive parallel can be drawn with Nicolas Anelka, who nominally starts to the right of a front three at Chelsea but tends to actually play as a second forward with a high degree of freedom. All the freedom of being a roaming forward, none of the pressure of being the nominated goalscorer. Also, it allows United to start their three best attacking players – Rooney, Berbatov, and Nani – but retain the flexibility to flood the midfield, if required. So, in the spirit of complete and total speculation, something like this …

Obviously, this relies on Berbatov maintaining his newfound (and slightly surprising) efficacy in the lone-striker role. And nobody else getting injured. And me correctly predicting a Ferguson selection decision, which is probably the least likely. But I think that, while it may seem counter-intuitive to move last season’s top scorer away from goal, the absence of Valencia means that United need to consider a fundamental restructuring.

Alternatively, in the interests of high-class unpredictable lunatic entertainment, one Da Silva brother on each wing? Go on, Fergie. It’d be brilliant.

GET WELL SOON, TONIO.

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§ 3 Responses to With crippled wings

  • Chris says:

    I was thinking both the da Silva twins on the SAME wing. Rafael at right-back, Fabio on the right-wing. If nothing else it’ll confuse the opposition, either having both of them running at you at the same time, or having both of them face you when you’re trying to attack. It would be Epic.

    I think Obertan could play an important role. He’s very much like Bebe; Lots of raw skill and talent, but not enough know-how to piece everything together at the moment. Both will (in my opinion) replicate Nani in that respect and become great players. Hopefully one or both can step up this season, it’s a great opportunity for them to do so. I’ve been encouraged from what I’ve seen from Bebe so far, despite what the Daily Heil say.

    I know many will disagree, but I don’t think playing Rooney on the left is a bad idea some of the time. It’s wasting his talent to play him there all of the time. But I would argue it’s a waste not playing him there sometimes. That game against Spurs at the back end of the 08/09 season is still fresh in my memory. In fact for most of the run-in that season. If Ronaldo and Messi can score 40+ goals from the wing a season, I don’t see why Rooney can’t have a good goal return from the wing. It just requires movement, plus the freedom to actually move around. David Villa played on the left during the World Cup for Spain in the early stages, and scored goal-after-goal.

    At the moment though I’m still more gutted about what happened to Tony than thinking what life would be like without him long-term this season.

    • twistedblood says:

      The Da Silva twins … might they not spend the whole game trying to overlap each other? With hilarious results …

      Good shout on that Spurs game. The thinking about positions in this country is extremely reductive, and doesn’t allow for the idea that a striker can start wide, as long as he has the nous and mobility to utilise the space. Which Rooney clearly does.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris C, Andrew Thomas. Andrew Thomas said: Twisted Blood mourns the loss of poor Tony Valencia, and speculates wildly about the future http://bit.ly/b6XQcH – RTs/comments welcome! […]

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