Manchester United team-mates heap praise on Antonio Valencia

 

Manchester United duo Ashley Young and Rafael have joined forces to heap praise on team-mate Antonio Valencia.

In a season that looks increasingly like ending with United becoming the first team to crash through the 20-title barrier, the question of who is their player-of-the-year is a real head-scratcher.

Even with 28 goals, Wayne Rooney cannot be regarded as an automatic selection.

Nani and Young flickered at times without producing consistent performances, Rio Ferdinand has gone about his business in a quietly effective way and David de Gea would be in contention for that magnificent save at Chelsea in February alone were it not for the woeful early performances as he tried to adjust to the Premier League's physicality.

That Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick - effective players but not really sprinkled with stardust - are so prominent in a potentially glorious year says it all.

Valencia was making only his 20th Barclays Premier League appearance of the season against Blackburn last night, 16 of which have been starts. In percentage terms, that is 65% and 52% respectively.

But there is a strong argument to suggest the Ecuador winger has done more than anyone to advance United's cause with his assists, goals and even a willingness to defend, given he collected a booking last night attempting to halt a Blackburn counter-attack.

Little wonder Rooney loves playing with him, or that Young and Rafael were so happy to sing his praises.

"Antonio was brilliant and he got his rewards with a goal," said Young.

Rafael added: "He just plays his natural game and gets better and better all the time."

So wary are opponents now of Valencia's crossing ability, they have started to stand off a little bit, offering him space to charge into.

As Wolves found to their cost a fortnight ago and Blackburn last night, it is a highly dubious tactic as Valencia is more than capable of scoring himself.

"As a fellow winger I will give him it as a shot," said Young of last night's effort, when Valencia cut in off the right flank and struck a ferocious shot from a narrow angle that beat Paul Robinson at his far post.

"Maybe the keeper wasn't expecting a shot from that distance," said Rafael.

"That is why it went in."

In his limited English - the one obvious negative for a player who has spent nearly six years in this country now - Valencia said it was "50-50" when asked if it was a shot or a cross, reinforcing Sir Alex Ferguson's theory that he went for the area, with pace, knowing if he did not score himself there was a decent chance a desperate defender might do the job as he tried to clear.

The outcome was a goal that triggered joyous scenes amongst the 7,000-strong travelling support and the type of fist pumping Ferguson only reserves for the most notable triumphs.

Prior to his side's visit to the Etihad Stadium on April 30, their only away game is next Wednesday against a Wigan team they have beaten on all 14 previous meetings between the two clubs.

In addition, they have three matches at Old Trafford, which means Manchester City have a trio of games away from the Etihad.

Five points behind and with a previously vast goal difference advantage wiped out, merely trying to end a run of two away wins in nine games is not an option for Roberto Mancini's under-fire side, which means beating Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday.

By then though, United will be eight points ahead if they beat a QPR side who benefited from last night's result by moving out of the bottom three.

Yet QPR have won just once in 25 competitive games at Old Trafford - when Dennis Bailey scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win two decades ago.

Little wonder the United supporters are becoming increasingly excited, even if Ferguson's mantra of one game at a time is being heeded by his players.

"It was a massive result," said Young.

"We knew if we won it would put us five points clear at the top.

"But QPR is a big game and it is not going to be easy.

"We could go eight points clear, which at this stage of the season is huge."

PA

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape