Alex Ferguson highlights importance of Antonio Valencia return

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The Independent Football

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the contribution of Antonio Valencia to the Red Devils' treble quest.

The South American's second season at Old Trafford came to an abrupt halt in September when he suffered a major ankle injury in United's Champions League opener with Rangers.

It took Valencia six months to get fit again but it now appears he has never been away.

The winger scored his first goal since August to wrap up Saturday's comfortable Premier League win over Fulham and Ferguson has already identified him as a key man in tonight's eagerly-anticipated Champions League return with Chelsea.

"We expected Antonio to come back like this," said Ferguson.

"He is an outstanding footballer, who is very capable of being a threat.

"His understanding of the game is terrific. He has a great tactical brain. The boy has everything, balance, power and speed.

"When we got nearer the time, we couldn't get him back quickly enough.

"We arranged closed-doors games to get his tempo and rhythm back.

"Nani has had a fantastic season. To have the two of them available is a tremendous boost at this time of year."

Ferguson has every reason to feel optimistic about his side booking a last-four meeting with German challengers Schalke.

Defending a single-goal advantage returning front-man Wayne Rooney gave them last week, United are bolstered by an excellent home record but also the potential for anxiety in visitors' ranks given owner Roman Abramovich so obviously wants the Champions League trophy on his mantelpiece.

"It does seem to be an obsession with Chelsea to win the European Cup," said Ferguson.

"That is why they signed Fernando Torres. The owner has every much nailed his colours to the mast in that respect. I have felt that for quite a while with him.

"To have an obsession of winning the European Cup is stretching yourself a wee bit. At the end of the day it is a very difficult competition to win.

"But I can understand it because I had the obsession myself for quite a while. I lost semi-finals and you say to yourself you are never going to do it.

"When we achieved it in Barcelona, it was the greatest feeling of all time.

"It took the monkey off my back."