For me though Manchester United will be getting the equivalent of two great new signings this month when Park Ji Sung makes his competitive return from the Asian Cup and Antonio Valencia bounces back from the injury that has kept out one of United’s most potent attacking threats.
Valencia doesn’t really do stepovers, he doesn’t play keepie uppie, he doesn’t really smash as many in the top corner with his left foot as Nani. What he does do is put it on a plate for strikers after powering past his marker, heading directly for the by-line that he seems so magnetically attracted to.
Last season when Rooney was scoring for fun a large part of that was down to the crosses, both lofted and driven, of our new wing wonder. Valencia on one wing, Nani on the other, Rafael and Evra providing full back support and any two of Berba, Rooney, Chicarito and Owen would be enough to cause any team problems.
Park doesn’t have the same direct running, but what he does have is the stamina of a man with “literally three lungs” – he’s a one man bleep test at times. The timing of the fixtures has been kind in that respect, Park returning from the Asian Cup in time to play the “big” away games against the teams trying to stop United regaining their trophy.
Now I think too many people subscribe to the “what if” school of thought. “What if United had Valencia fit all season” – well, you could certainly argue that we wouldn’t have looked so devoid of width at times, with Rooney and Berbatov dropping deeper and deeper into midfield to forage for the ball as we look far too narrow, often playing 3 central midfielders out of a midfield 4. With Valencia and Park available we probably won’t need quite so many Ryan Giggs rescue acts. But other teams can very easily point to their own what if players. So I won’t dwell on it for too long, after all, United are top of the league, have only conceded 1 goal in the Champions League and have the season firmly in their hands.
It’s easy to put too much pressure on players returning from injury, to expect too much. I don’t want to forget that Tony is on his way back from a really bad injury, one that could take some time to bounce back from. But I really do think that just having that extra option, even from the bench, will be a massive help, especially in sorting out the away form (which isn’t as bad awful as everyone makes out but certainly wouldn’t be title winning form if it weren’t for our home form) by offering extra pace and penetration out wide. Something that only Nani and Giggs (on as a sub) have really provided this season.
I’m not saying that these two are going to step in and win United the treble. But for a team that’s been looking a little tired lately, the added impetus of some fresh legs could be the key in a 19th title that would see United become the most successful club in England. Not bad for a club who haven’t made a marquee signing in over two years.
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