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Return of Antonio Valencia has reinvigorated Wayne Rooney

Simon Rice

valencia 214x300 Return of Antonio Valencia has reinvigorated Wayne RooneyIn the build-up to tonight’s Champions League second-leg against Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson has been lavishing praise on Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia.

The South American’s second season at Old Trafford came to an abrupt halt in September when he broke his leg against Rangers. Six months later, the former Wigan player has returned, and his form belies the months he spent on the sidelines.

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

The rehabilitation has paid off in spectacular style. Since his return this time last month, Manchester United have won all of their six games. All the more impressive considering they lost the two matches that preceded his return to action, a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea and a drubbing at the hands of a Dirk Kuyt inspired Liverpool.

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

As well as Valencia’s own form, the 25-year-old’s return has appeared to re-energise the team, particularly in the case of Wayne Rooney.  In the 15 league games in which Rooney played without Valencia, he scored six goals. In the six games since his return, Rooney has netted five.

Rooney appears to thrive of the regular crosses and resulting chaos and confusion that Valencia provides. It was the Ecudorian’s incicive pass that set-up Rooney for his second goal in the 4-2 comeback against West Ham.

With the Premier League all but sewn up, a winnable looking FA Cup final should they navigate past Manchester City this weekend and an advantage over Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals – talk of the treble is growing. With that comes comparisons with the side that acheived it in 1999, but by most pundits’ estimates, the current crop doesn’t compare.

But with the timely return of Valencia, and it’s affect on Rooney – that judgement may need a reassessment. In his pre-match press conference, Ferguson added: “Nani has had a fantastic season. To have the two of them (Nani and Valencia) available is a tremendous boost at this time of year.” And that’s ominous for their rivals.

Valencia’s return…

In the preceding games before Valencia’s return from a broken leg, United lost 2-1 to Chelsea and 3-1 to Liverpool. This is how they’ve got on since:

12 March: Man United 2 Arsenal 0 (Fabio, Rooney)
Coming off the bench for the second half, United beat Arsenal in the FA Cup.

15 March: Man United 2 Marseille 1 (Hernandez 2)
Came off the bench again and was involved in the build up to Hernandez’s second goal.

19 March: Manchester United 1 Bolton 0 (Berbatov)
Makes his first start, with Giggs moving into central midfield. Set Wayne Rooney up for a shot which was well saved by Jaaskelainen. United scored a late winner.

2 April: West Ham 2 Man United 4 (Rooney 3, Hernandez)
Lots of menacing crosses caused havoc in the Hammers’ defence. Played the ball for Rooney’s second.

6 April: Chelsea 0 Manchester United 1 (Rooney)
United clinch an invaluable away goal in the Champions League.

9 April: Man United 2 Fulham 0 (Berbatov, Valencia)
No Rooney due to suspension, but Valencia gets in on the act himself, nodding in a simple header for United’s second.

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