The worst captain in modern Manchester United history still left a void – not one, but two. Antonio Valencia had all the leadership of the captain of the Titanic but his decade with United was enriched by superb seasons at right-back and on the right wing.
Valencia was signed to offset Cristiano Ronaldo‘s world record £80million sale to Real Madrid in 2009 and the Ecuadorian’s shift-run-cross strategy was reminiscent of Andrei Kanchelskis. Barely two years into his United career, Valencia was trialled as an auxiliary right-back, where he spent his last five years playing for the club.
It is down the right where United have got it wrong. Prior to the October deadline day deals for teenage duo Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, Wilfried Zaha was the last right-sided winger United signed in January 2013. Valencia’s legacy is he solved one problem position and created another.
The £50m investment in Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the summer of 2019 was forced on United by the transformative impact of the full-backs at Manchester City and Liverpool. Wan-Bissaka, 23, has been rigorous in defence but reticent in attack and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently opined it could be another two years until he fulfils his potential.
Wan-Bissaka played as a winger between the ages of 11 and 18 for the Crystal Palace academy and that has been apparent in his performances for United. In recent weeks, though, he has rediscovered a sense of adventure and in the dismantling of Southampton met fellow full-back Luke Shaw’s cross to claim his first Old Trafford goal.
Southampton were a man down but Wan-Bissaka willingly assumed the role of right winger three days on from fashioning an outstanding chance for Edinson Cavani at Arsenal. United’s right side was bolstered by the recalled Mason Greenwood, 19, representing long-term options without even considering the hyped Diallo.
“I think the right side has traditionally, over the years, been a challenge for us going forward,” Solskjaer said. “We haven’t found a right winger or right-back to fill the void left by Antonio when he left.
“Aaron is getting better and Mason’s performance tonight was excellent even though he didn’t score – and that’s a good thing, that we scored nine goals and Mason didn’t get one.
“The two can form a good right side and I can’t remember the last time a full-back crossed for another full-back and scored for Man United, so someone needs to help me with that one.
“What I liked about the performance was the hunger and attitude to do the right things and get better and better and practice good habits and that’s the only way we can improve and get better, do the right things.
“You see loads of things we’ve been working on but we don’t want to be a team that you can predict, we want to be a little bit unpredictable as well.
“But that has to come from the players, I thought they were excellent, that the freedom, creativity and imagination was there. The performance was positive and something we can look at.
“You have to think about them being down to 10 men but it’s never easy to play against 10 men, either.”