By Mark Weasley
The arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer sent shivers down the spine of many players at Old Trafford. Players were skeptical of their futures, but also knew that they had a fresh chance of impressing the new manager.
Antonio Valencia had become somewhat of a joke figure under Louis van Gaal, but now looks a man reborn under the tutelage of the Portuguese manager. It is hard to fathom that the Ecuadorian has been at Old Trafford for seven years, but his stock has risen over the course of the past year, and has grown into his role as one of Mourinho’s first names on the team sheet as United look to make a success of their season, albeit with a stuttering start.
Manchester United have won their last six games and have their next three games at home, in 3 different competitions. First up is Reading in the FA Cup, followed by a semi-final first leg clash against Hull City next week, before a mouthwatering league clash with Liverpool, which could have remarkable implications for the title race of both teams.
Valencia has been in imperious form, and is the only undroppable defender in the back line. Formerly a right winger, he was converted into a right full back by Louis van Gaal, and has been impressive in that role, delivering what Mourinho wants in his full backs: strength, grit, willpower and defensive acumen.
He needs to work on his goal scoring, as he has not scored in close to three years. The manner in which he strived to come back from injury in the game against Arsenal, despite suffering a fractured arm in the buildup to that crucial game. That selfless act endeared him to Mourinho, who likes his players giving their all, and covering every blade of grass. The sad thing is that his contract expires in the summer, and shockingly, there have been no talks to extend his contract as yet.
Valencia has proven this season, that if players are really determined, they can win a place in the first team. Take note, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw.