Antonio Valencia has claimed that it is his improved concentration and tactical discipline which has helped him secure Manchester United’s first choice right-back berth this season.
The 31-year-old joined the Red Devils from Wigan Athletic in 2009, originally intended to be a right-winger, but the Ecuador international has regularly featured as a right-sided defender in more recent years, albeit to varying levels of success.
Concentration behind Valencia's improvement
Valencia was shifted back to a more defensive role in the latter stages of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as United boss before he was utilised there more frequently by successors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
However, Valencia is arguably playing his best football as a right-back under new boss Jose Mourinho this season, and the former Wigan and Villarreal speedster says it is his added focus on defensive duties which has allowed him to improve.
The Ecuadorian told MUTV that he had “been working hard on where I need to be in certain situations,” adding that “that, and my concentration, are the two areas I have tried to work on.”
Although deployed at right-back by both Ferguson and Moyes beforehand, Valencia’s game time at right-back increased even more under Van Gaal in the last two seasons.
Mourinho influence helping Valencia?
And the United veteran admitted that “I've got to hold my hands up for my first season when Mr van Gaal first started to play me more regularly at right-back.
“I made one or two mistakes in that role and some of those mistakes were maybe down to me not concentrating 100 per cent all the time,” he continued, explaining that “one area where I have tried to improve is my concentration and always being totally focused."
Valencia has been United’s undoubted first-choice right-back under Mourinho this term, playing 14 times in the Premier League – missing out only through a fractured arm in late October and suspension for last week’s win away at Crystal Palace.