With Ecuador facing Germany tonight, one player will be hoping to impress his new club manager.
This evening will see a much-changed Germany side face Ecuador in what appears to be the new home of post-season friendlies – the USA.
And while Joachim Loew’s team will be predominantly made up of players hoping to take advantage of the absence of those from both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, one man on the opposite team will be equally keen to show what he can do.
It won’t have escaped Antonio Valencia’s attention that Wifried Zaha put in another match-winning performance in Monday’s Championship play-off final. And after the season Valencia has had at Manchester United, his position in the starting line-up has never been under more threat.
There was a time when Valencia could do no wrong, when he was hailed as one of the Premier League’s best wide-men. On his day, no one could touch him. But in recent times he appears to have forgotten what he is good at.
When he arrived at Old Trafford in 2009, he quickly became one of the first names on the team-sheet, ending the campaign with seven goals and 11 assists in 49 appearances. And while a season-ending injury curtailed his progress the following year, he returned in 2011 somehow more effective than ever, playing 38 games, scoring six goals and providing 15 assists.
It was his ability to produce pin-point crosses that temporarily turned Wayne Rooney’s head into a weapon every bit as deadly as his feet. And while other wingers used tricks that failed as often as they worked, Valencia broke wing-play down to its simplest form – kick and run.
When you are as fast as he is, you invariably win the race.
And yet this season he failed to maintain that form. And while injuries have certainly played their part, he has too often looked like a completely different player – one lacking both confidence and awareness.
There were glimpses, as the season reached its conclusion, that the 27-year-old was rediscovering some of his old form. But if those matches were about dusting off his skills, every game from now on is about showing them at their sparkling best.
And that starts this evening, with David Moyes no doubt watching from afar, observing each post-season performance from every one of his new players.
Valencia will know his new manager relies heavily on wing-play. He will also know he is, on his day, the best wide-man at his club.
A good performance against an under-strength German side will certainly remind Moyes that he has far more than a precocious Englishman and a frustrating Portuguese to call on for a position on the right.
Another poor performance, and it will be that much harder to persuade his new boss that it isn’t time for a changing of the guard.
Can Valencia return to his previous form next season? And will Moyes give him that chance?
image: © Magnus D