United’s Valencia ready for Milan test
Antonio Valencia is preparing for the game of his life in the San Siro next week.
With Ryan Giggs out injured, Valencia seems certain to earn a recall for Manchester United in their Champions League last 16 tie with seven-times winners AC Milan.
While all the talk surrounding the tie has centred around David Beckham, Valencia knows it provides the perfect opportunity to stamp his own mark on the right-sided midfield slot the former England captain used to occupy.
And, the Ecuador star states without hesitation that Tuesday’s encounter is the biggest club match he has ever been involved in.
"They will be the biggest games I’ve played in club football," Valencia told Inside United.
"The Champions League is a huge competition and Milan are one of the biggest clubs around.
"They’ve won so much in their history and they’ve won the Champions League a lot, so it will be a big test for us.
"Every game is important, but the lads are definitely looking forward to playing against Milan."
Valencia has been handed a little break by Sir Alex Ferguson recently.
The United boss is mindful this is Valencia’s first season at a ‘big four’ club and is wary of the 24-year-old burning himself out before the run-in begins.
But his performance as a second-half substitute at Aston Villa on Wednesday after Nani had been sent off proved his well-being and Ferguson is expected to name the former Wigan star in a five-man midfield, with Wayne Rooney once again deployed as a lone striker.
Apart from being England’s World Cup talisman, Rooney has a Champions League winners’ medal to his name and a runners-up gong from last year’s disappointing final defeat to Barcelona.
Valencia, along with Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan, is one of the few members of the current squad who don’t have either, although it has not taken him long to discover that, at Old Trafford, once is simply not enough.
"You can see the determination in us to win as much as we can," he said.
"We want to win trophies at all costs. We are working hard in training and you cannot miss the determination in the squad."
The absence of Giggs’ ability and experience is a huge blow to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
History is not on their side either. Four times these European giants have met, three times at the semi-final stage, but on every occasion it is the Italians who have come out on top in a two-legged duel.
United will hope this time is different. And not just because of Beckham’s presence.
After 394 appearances for the Old Trafford outfit, Beckham needs little introduction, even if, with Giggs and John O’Shea injured, only five members of the travelling party can count the 34-year-old as a former team-mate – and in Darren Fletcher’s case they never actually shared the same pitch as Beckham replaced the Scot on his debut against Basel in 2003.
There is also a sense of peace regarding Beckham’s relationship with Ferguson after the pair shook hands in the San Siro ahead of United’s tie with Inter last year, drawing a public conclusion to the feud that arose over the massive number of outside interests the Londoner developed during his final years at United, culminating in him being sold to Real Madrid for £25million.
Yet, while Beckham has stated "the time is right" to revisit his favourite haunt, Ferguson, plus old friends Paul Scholes and Gary Neville for that matter, will be desperate not to let him enjoy the return leg too much.