A place on the right side of Manchester United’s defence this season is there for the taking ahead of the new campaign.
The trip to Sweden for a friendly against Galatasaray marked the first time a player had staked a claim for the right-back position this pre-season.
Antonio Valencia, 31 tomorrow, is a complete pro and a very popular figure in the dressing room. Despite seemingly having no confidence to speak English, he is better at it than you may think.
Though highly regarded by his teammates, Valencia will be judged on his performance on the pitch. Jose Mourinho needs to be impressed and setting up three of United’s five goals on Saturday in a man-of-the-match display certainly would have done that.
His crossing has caused as much concern as his injuries, it’s not very often we see him look up before a cross, let alone provide a pin-point delivery — which happened against the Turks.
Under Louis van Gaal, Valencia found it awkward. The Dutchman told players not to take on their man and beat them for pace.
Now with Mourinho, the opportunity is there for Valencia to make the position his own. Experience, speed and power are attributes the new boss fancies, making Valencia well placed to make an impact.
If Valencia can stay injury-free and obtain the confidence of Mourinho it will help him rediscover his best form, like when he was United’s Player of the Year in 2012.
Guillermo Varela has left on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt and Matteo Darmian could also go. New signing Eric Bailly will play as a central defender, but did play as a full-back at Espanyol and Villarreal.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has been told by Mourinho that he is not in his plans. Speculation over Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s future is false and the 18-year-old will stay to play back-up. Links to a new right-back keep coming and going but the position is not a priority.
21 goals in 248 appearances at Old Trafford is a scanty return for the original winger. Usually dropping deeper to provide sufficient cover, that could be about to change.
Valencia made his competitive United debut in the Community Shield seven years ago and, if he is in the starting eleven in the same game on Sunday it will present a clearer indication that Mourinho sees him as his first choice right-back.