The substitution of Nani against Bolton on Saturday, wouldn’t have surprised many United fans, as the Portuguese has been taken off early in three of his last five games.
Nani’s been playing on the left almost exclusively in recent weeks as Antonio Valencia -apart from a few games at right back- has been put back in his favoured right wing position. Valencia’s form has been superb over the Christmas period, as even in the defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle he was one of the few, if not the only United player who could hold his head high.
Valencia’s seems to be a constant threat down the right hand side, in every game that he plays. Against Blackburn the most frustrating aspect of United’s performance was that we didn’t get the ball to the Ecuadorian enough. Valencia is always capable of getting down the channel and more often than not getting a decent cross in as he showed time and time again against Bolton on Saturday.
Then we come to Nani…….
It’s easy to be frustrated by Mr Da Cunha, he can be sublime one minute, taking on opponents with ease before rifling an unstoppable shot past a keeper. Then there can be the other side to him, twisting himself into trouble, wasting the opportunity to cross the ball before losing possession, shouting at team mates, when it’s himself he should be chastising. Yet for all his faults, and let’s face it he does have some, he’s still one of the most talented footballers in the Premier League. The fact that 13 goals have come via him ,be it directly or an assist this season, show that he’s one of the most productive wingers you’ll see in any side.
The problem is when Nani is forced to play on the left, he isn’t nearly as effective as he is on the right. Yes he can play in the left and has a decent left foot on him, but he’s much more at home on the right, where he doesn’t HAVE to move onto his left foot to get his cross or shot in. Thats the major difference, being able to choose or being forced to do something. When Ashley Young was deployed on the left, he and Nani seemed the perfect foil for one another as they could both swap over if they felt the need, although it was usually the Portugal international on the right, the England one on the left.
With Valencia though, Nani doesn’t have that option as he cannot ask his opposite winger to move over to the left hand side. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a criticism of Valencia, after all did David Beckham ever play on the left? No. I don’t’ ever recall expecting him to either. The problem is, Nani isn’t as effective and Valencia is simply too good to drop so what can United do?
There’s always the option of playing them both on the right hand side, after all Valencia has been a competent right back for United at times, none more so than Chelsea in the Champions League last season where he was quite frankly awesome. The problem with that is, Nani isn’t renowned for tracking back and if Valencia were to bomb forward and leave his defensive position to get in crosses, then should United be caught on the counter you’d need Nani to be covering which isn’t likely to happen. There’s also the problem of who would then operate the left wing Nani had vacated as you couldn’t just leave it empty.
United could drop Nani for Young -when he’s fit- although as I’ve mentioned the winger is one of the most productive of any side, and arguably one of only two or three out and out match winners United have. Dropping Nani would weaken the United side and if it were left to me I’d much rather see him in the side than Young who after a bright start has still yet to fully convince he’s good enough for the starting XI.
As we enter the second half of the season with tough away games at the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, Eastlands not to mention Anfield in the FA Cup there’s no doubt the Reds need both wingers playing to the best of their abilities.
One possible solution could be in the guise of Fabio Da Silva, the young Brazilian could hold the key to enabling United to make the most of both Nani and Valencia. If Nani starts on the left with Valencia on the right backed up by Fabip then their may be room for manoeuvre. Should Nani decide to switch over to the right for a spell then Fabio could feasibly operate on the left wing, making the most of his energy and willingness to get forward.
Obviously this still leaves the question of Nani tracking back but if Chris Smalling is used as a centre back on the right side of defence and Phil Jones is also on the pitch then you had two players capable of dropping into that role when needed.
This may sound like a somewhat convoluted solution to the problem, but there can be little denying that with the form of both Valencia and Nani these past few games- at opposite ends of the spectrum, something needs to be done on how to play the both of them together.
Am i worrying about nothing? Is it merely a case of Nani having a bit of slump regardless of the position he’s played? Does my suggestion hold any water?
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