Friday, February 17, 2012

Injury to in-form Antonio Valencia sours victory over Ajax for solid but unspectacular Manchester United!

After a drab and lacklustre performance in the first half of their 2-0 win at Ajax, Manchester United clicked into gear after the restart, eventually strolling to their first-leg victory. And, although the performance was far from spectacular, it looked like being an efficient night for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sir Alex paid a great deal of respect to the tournament, naming a full-strength side as he went in search of a win to put the tie beyond all doubt, but he ultimately got more than he bargained for.

A goal from Ashley Young set them on their way, but neither the goalscorer, or United’s other wide man, Nani, were particularly impressive and the England international eventually made way for the in-form Antonio Valencia.

Valencia quietly went about his business down the right, cutting inside more often than not, but his driving runs were causing problems as he lured the centre-backs to him before sliding teasing passes through to Javier Hernandez.

However, a timeframe of 10 seconds produced two moments of huge contrast as United effectively booked their passage into the next round of the Europa League at an expensive price.

Valencia surged forward from his own half, flicking a pass to Hernandez while hoping to avoid a challenge from Jan Vertonghen but, though the little Mexican ran on to score following an interchange with Wayne Rooney, the former Wigan man was left in a heap on the floor.

The 26-year-old came off in the immediate aftermath of Hernandez’s goal, heading straight for the tunnel with Sir Alex Ferguson confirming in his post-match press conference that the winger will be missing for a month with a hamstring strain.

Ever since Ferguson and his team crashed out of the Champions League, much debate had been focussed on whether United would treat the Europa League with the same importance, or if they would let the ‘kids’ prove their worth, saving their big names for the undoubted number one focus this season; retaining the Premier League title.

Although United’s selection for the Ajax win was a big plus for the Europa League, those at Old Trafford may now be alert to the potential problems involved when playing key men in more than one competition at a time, with the example of Wayne Rooney’s injury in the 2009-10 Champions League having disastrous consequences.

On that occasion, United looked to be cruising through, but Rooney soon picked up an injury before Bayern Munich hit back, eventually progressing themselves despite a 3-2 loss and, with Rooney out for two months, Chelsea went on to claim the title.

Luckily for United, they have a player more than capable of filling the void left by the Ecuadorian in Nani, but unless he finds form once again on the right-wing, creativity could be sorely lacking at Old Trafford in the coming month, with the former Sporting Lisbon man as hit-and-miss as anyone.

Hopefully for Sir Alex Ferguson’s sake key players will return and injuries will dry up, but that is rarely how football works. With the Europa League without doubt the least important competition for them this season, United should save the ‘big guns’ for their Premier League title charge.

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