Man United: Why it’s Valencia, and not Nani, who should feel threatened by Wilfried Zaha

The January transfer window passed off as quietly as expected at Manchester United as Alex Ferguson resisted the urge of distorting his already supremely talented squad with a panic buy. Wilfried Zaha did come in for a fee of £15 million from Crystal Palace, but at the age of 20 with a fledgling career that has already been coloured with an England cap, it is anything but a rash piece of business.

With the future in mind, Ferguson has added to his options in wide-midfield, posing questions of the current incumbents of the wide positions at Old Trafford when Zaha returns to his loan back to Palace and eventually joins up with his new teammates in the summer.

Luis Nani is still erratically inconsistent after a season that began with a reportedly near move to Zenit St Petersburg as Ferguson’s patience continues to be worn down by displays that range from the productive to the infuriating.

Nani has played just eight Premier League matches this term and frustrations were summed up by Ferguson who aimed the responsibility of the League Cup loss to Chelsea at the player for giving the ball away naively when hanging on to a 2-3 lead in the dying stages.

After the fruitful season of 2010-2011 in which Nani made 18 assists and won the club’s player of the year award, he is now being trusted less in big games.

The winger was withdrawn after just 45 minutes in the victory at Liverpool while his only league appearance since his eight minute cameo against Arsenal was a spell of 17 minutes against Southampton on Wednesday night as the Portuguese has been restricted to FA Cup games.

Nani was left out of the squad completely for the trip to Spurs a fortnight ago, sparking a feeling that his time in Manchester, that has been infuriatingly sporadic since his £18 million move back in 2007, may be drawing to a close.

Ferguson’s biggest game eleven now seems to contain Ashley Young opposite Luis Antonio Valencia on the flanks and even though Young’s form has improved somewhat after a slow first year with United, Valencia’s game has started to suffer a worrying malaise.

He was brilliant as Ferguson targeted the wings to earn a dramatic win in the Manchester derby, but utterly wasteful in home matches with Arsenal and Sunderland. He struggled to influence the recent game with Liverpool when introduced as a half-time substitute and was handed partial blame for the disappointing late equaliser against Spurs after a mix-up in possession with Rafael.

So often the reliable wing-man who hugged the touch line with energy and direct pace and of course a phenomenal work-rate, fitting so perfectly into Ferguson’s system that is devoted to out and out wide men, he has suddenly also began to waiver his manager’s patience.

Valencia.... failed to stamp his mark against struggling Sunderland.

Valencia…. failed to stamp his mark against struggling Sunderland.

 

It is now a month since the Ecuadorian last started a league game, a decent display against West Brom in which he picked up an assist, just his fourth of the season to date and the problem remains that displays to that standard are becoming increasingly infrequent.

The devastating attacking trio of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, accounting for a combined tally of 46 goals so far, has ensured the supply of goals has not suffered despite the problems out wide. However, it will remain a concern to Ferguson who is still fighting for trophies on three fronts, he will not want members of his squad, of which the Scot has so often stressed the importance, struggling for form at such a vital time.

Perhaps the acquisition of Zaha, the gangly-legged left-winger who has repeatedly shown in the Championship the ruthless ease with which he can beat his marker, can provoke a stark improvement in form in those that may look set to be under threat by his impending arrival.

He is the future, but right now Ferguson is pressed by the present and it will be of grave concern that Valencia, his trusty versatile wide-man, has joined Nani in the “under-threat” category.

It may be him, and not the frustrating Portuguese, who could be hit most by Zaha.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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