Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers: Antonio Valencia Is A Beast

Three points on the night, five clear at the top and a raucous away following. United have clenched just as we reach squeaky bum time...
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Three points on the night, five clear at the top and a raucous away following. United have clenched just as we reach squeaky bum time...

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It was a tense and nervy affair at Ewood park as Manchester United dug out a victory against Steve Kean’s men with two late great goals from Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. Up till that point, it was all a bit like the big bad wolf trying to blow a concrete house down. United were pushing and banging on the door, but far too often, the finish or the final ball was left wanting.

Steve Kean will be proud of the fact that Blackburn held out gallantly for so long, with a sterling defensive performance to repel wave after wave of United attack, but in the end, it was all in vain as Antonio Valencia thrashed in an absolute beauty with the outside of his foot from the edge of the penalty area and substitute Young made it two with a fine turn and finish after being found by Valencia just outside the box. So without further ado, here are the main talking points from the match -

4-3-3 doesn’t work without Nani

United started out with a classic 4-3-3 last night, with Rooney and Valencia on either side of Chicharito. It didn’t work. Rooney kept getting drawn inwards and to compensate, Evra was forced higher and higher up the pitch, leaving huge swathes of empty pitch behind him. Thankfully, Blackburn were unable to break into that area but if they did, United would have been in a world of trouble.

For a classical 4-3-3 to work, the two wide men are supposed to stay wide, and cut inside when needed. With United, Rooney was already mostly playing through the middle and Valencia, brilliant as he was last night, is still useless on his left foot. So he stuck to the right all night, like a traditional winger in a 4-4-2 (his usual role).

If Ferguson’s formation were to work perfectly, he would have had Rooney through the middle with Young on the left and Nani on the right. Comparing current form, no one in their right minds would choose the Portuguese player over Valencia, but unlike Valencia, Nani is equally good with his left foot as well and could easily have cut in to shoot, which does not happen with Valencia. The Ecuadorean is a much more fearsome prospect as a traditional winger.

Phil Jones’s best position is Right-Back

At the start of the season, with all our injury problems, Phil Jones was our savior. The lad played right back, centre back and in the middle and put in some admirable performances as United scraped through games such as Everton, Swansea and Aston Villa. Then he got injured and was out for a while.

With each subsequent game since, Jones’s position is becoming more and more certain. He isn’t a center back because he is very easily out muscled and out jumped by even the most ordinary of forwards. He isn’t a holding midfielder because as we saw amply last night, everything just goes around him. He was being totally bypassed by the play as Blackburn simply played around him and he had to resort to chasing after them. Jones in the center of the pitch is like a bull in a china shop, an elephant on ice bumbling along and praying he doesn’t trip over his own feet. At times he looked like Michael Carrick on a very bad day - holding the ball and passing it back where it came from.

However, he has been very solid at right back. He has the pace to get forward, the awareness to stay back and the strength to hold off the opposing winger as well. As he matures, he might adapt properly to being a center back, but for the present atleast, right back is where its at for Jones.

Dimitar Berbatov is definitely going

For what seemed like the umpteenth time in a row, Berbatov wasn’t even on the bench for the match. You have to ask yourself what the Bulgarian is doing wrong to deserve such treatment. Granted he has had poor games this season (Newcastle, Ajax) but so has everyone else! Welbeck, Rooney, Park and Evra have all had poor games but you don’t see them kicked out of the team do you?

This is the man who scored 7 goals in his last two appearances against Blackburn!

When the squad lists were announced, I was amazed to see Berba wasn’t even on the bench because Blackburn away can get very physical and we needed someone who could deal with that. Hernàndez wasn’t the man for the job because he’s all of 5’8” and tiny. Welbeck’s hasn’t been in the best of form either so you would’ve expected Berbatov to be in the squad at the very least. But he wasn’t. Instead of his class and skill on the field, we had the brute force of Phil Jones...who was absolutely pathetic on the night.

I fully expect Berbatov to leave in the summer, but will be absolutely devastated if he leaves. I know many fans will say “good riddance” but there’s no denying the sheer talent and ability in the man. No one in our squad even comes close. Not Rooney, not Nani, not anyone.

Antonio Valencia is a beast

Once again, Antonio Valencia showed exactly why United needed him so badly with a virtuoso performance from the right wing. It is rumoured that Valencia’s current nickname is “Animal”. Something the Olsson brothers will testify too.

It is rumoured that Valencia’s current nickname is “Animal”. Something the Olsson brothers will testify too.

Valencia lit up a dreary United performance, beating the Olssons (who were double teaming him) time and time again, both running outside and cutting inside. His and United first goal was, as John Keats would say, “a thing of beauty”. Valencia dropped a shoulder, got to the outside of Olsson and lashed one with the outside of his foot with ferocious velocity into the bottom corner of the net, as the 7,000 traveling supporters erupted behind him. He then followed it up with an assist for Ashley Young as United well and truly closed out the match.

Valencia has been impeccable down our right this season. With his pace, power and crossing ability, he has torn a hole in many a side’s defence. The Ecuadorean is now level with David Silva as the season’s top assister, albeit having played 11 games less than City’s scheming Spaniard.

de Gea : Dodgy keeper my a***

Over the last two months, no keeper in the league has been better than de Gea. He has the best saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League (79%) and with performances like this, its no big wonder. He has singlehandedly kept us alive in games against Chelsea, Ajax, Norwich, Bilbao, West Brom, Fulham and most recently, Blackburn with unbelievable acrobatics and tremendous saves.

Last night, he demonstrated once again why Ferguson was willing to pay nearly £20 million pounds for him. A brilliant flying save from Junior Hoilett was followed up by two critical, mindblowingly good ones - first, from Marcus Olsson and then, clawing away Grant Hanley’s header from the resulting corner.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a man derided as a flop after some early season antics. de Gea has answered his critics perfectly and will remain United’s No.1 for years to come. Man of the Match for me.

It is QPR next for United and they could very well be 8 points clear at the top before City even kick off - against Arsenal at the Emirates. Arsenal will be desperate for a win and to reclaim third place after Spurs’ win against Swansea. What better motivation could United ask for?

United have now taken 31 points from a possible 33 in games that Paul Scholes has featured this season, highlighting Scholes’s catalytic impact on the team. Also, United had more than 70% possession of the ball and a pass completion rate of more than 91% - something no other team has had away from home. The move leading up to Ashley Young’s goal was made up of 37 successive passes - the longest sequence of any PL goal this season - essentially Barcelona territory. Which just goes to show you - if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

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