Ferguson happy with Valencia progress

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson feels Antonio Valencia is finally starting to make his mark at Manchester United.

The Ecuador wide-man endured a slow start to life at Old Trafford following his £17m move from Wigan.

But Valencia is now making a major impact. After finding the net in consecutive games against Bolton and CSKA Moscow last month, he made the Russians suffer once more on Tuesday when he capped a man-of-the-match display with an injury-time equaliser that admittedly came courtesy of a very big deflection.

Ferguson was always aware of Valencia's pace, which was so obvious during his time with the Latics.

However, the United boss stressed to the South American the importance of increasing his goals output.

"It is good to see him scoring," said Ferguson.

"He did not show a scoring ability when he was at Wigan but when he came to us we talked about this and the fact if he is to progress his career, it was something he should work on."

The advice has proved to be accurate, with Ferguson delighted United seem to have unearthed another supply of goals as they look to cover Cristiano Ronaldo's exceptional return.

"He is showing evidence of progress now," said the United boss. "He has settled in and is emerging as a top performer.

"He has strength, good balance, speed and is a good crosser of the ball.

"But the main thing is that he is now playing with much more confidence.

"I am delighted with his steady improvement and hopefully he will prove to be another valuable source of goals as we move through the season."

Ferguson really would be impressed if Valencia found the net for a third match on the trot on Sunday, when United visit Chelsea looking to gain a win that would allow them to leapfrog the current Barclays Premier League leaders.

John O'Shea is almost certain to step in for suspended skipper Gary Neville, while Rio Ferdinand is again set to be on the sidelines with a continuing calf problem, even if Nemanja Vidic has recovered from a similar injury.

As Patrice Evra will also return to the starting line-up in place of Fabio, whose defensive discipline let him down against CSKA Moscow in midweek, it means three-fifths of United's defence will have changed in the space of five days, just highlighting why Neville feels United's backline has been so shaky this term.

"We are interchanging the defence too regularly at the moment because of injuries and it has caused us a problem," he said.

"We had to change our keeper for the opening two months of the season, then Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been injured. Before that it was Wes Brown.

"It means more changes than the manager would like.

"He wants a consistent back four, which is what we have had for two or three seasons.

"We definitely want to improve defensively and once we settle into our stride I am sure we will become better."