As Antonio Valencia prepares to complete his road to recovery, with a probable Premier League title and a Champions League final to look forward to, I think we have all wondered how he has come back so strong because if anything Valencia is better than before!
Since he came on against Arsenal in the FA Cup, Valencia has gone from strength to strength. While it is universally agreed that he had a good season last year, with his intelligent crossing and undeniable power. I must admit that he sometimes frustrated me; he seemed too predictable and often spurned opportunities for early crosses, in favour of darting towards the byline.
In the last couple of months though, Valencia is picking defence-splitting passes, barging people off the ball for fun, and even doing a job a right back. In particular, his performances against Chelsea, and the two games against Schalke really impressed me. Valencia has obviously been in the gym while he was injured (not that he wasn’t strong before), but he has also been learning while watching an awful lot of football as he said himself, “When I was injured I would sit at home watching the matches and think ‘If I were in that position, I’d do this or that” – It’s almost football theory.
On Sunday (8th May), Valencia gave Ashley Cole a torrid time, it was an anonymous as I have ever seen the Chelsea left back, and that is solely down to Valencia. Perhaps, the biggest compliment to Valencia is that he has kept Nani, arguably our best performer in the first half of the season, out of the team since his return. And it now seems he will be one of the first names on the team sheet against Barcelona.
We can only think what might have been if Valencia hadn’t got injured (although it hasn’t been a bad season). In away games, we would have benefited from a strong and quick outlet like Valencia and his work-rate may have made the difference at times.
That is irrelevant now as he looks to secure another Premier League and looks forward to a Champions League final at Wembley.
All this seemed highly unlikely on that cold Tuesday in September.