I t’s not just our form and league position that’s got me pinching myself at the moment. Th e fact we’ve got where we are with a number of first team players still to return from injury is nothing short of ridiculous. I mean that in a good way. In previous seasons our strength in depth, or lack of, has cost us dearly. Last season it cost us a finish in the top ten and you could also use it as a small excuse for our failure to stay in the Premier League in the past, too.
But now things are different. We’re strong in almost every position; so strong that we’re all wondering how a Champions League winner and former Barcelona player is going to get in the team once he returns from injury. It’s not just Alex Song who’ll be sweating over his place in the starting XI, though. Last summer’s £12million signing Enner Valencia arguably has a bigger job on his hands.
Our success so far this campaign can be put mostly down to our attacking threat. Diafra Sakho, Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet, Victor Moses and Mauro Zarate have all been superb, scoring and creating goals every week. Th en you’ve got Andy Carroll back fit and firing, throwing his hat in the ring for a piece of the pie with his winner against Chelsea. Oh, and Michael Antonio is still to get his chance to shine.
So where exactly does Valencia fit in now? Th e Ecuadorian hit the ground running last term with our goal of the season in a 2-2 draw against Hull. It was a goal that had everyone saying ‘hang on, we’ve got a player here.’ Th e 25-year-old hardly replicated that early promise for the rest of the campaign, ending the season with just four league goals, which had some fans wondering whether he was worth the money aft er all. However, you’d like to think Slaven Bilic can get the best out of him. Squad rotation is going to be key to us avoiding another dismal second half of the season and instead achieving a top eight finish at the very least.
But if squad rotation is to work, it has to involve a number of quality players all of which are happy to wait their turn and chip in with quality performances when they get the call. Valencia should be deployed in a similar role that Zarate has played this season, but Zarate has only really played when Victor Moses hasn’t, which goes to show how much competition there is for places this season.
Valencia’s partnership with Sakho last term was a promising sight and one I’m sure both players are eager to rekindle this season. Bilic will know that, it’s just finding a way for it to work and for all of them to be the same positive impact when it’s their turn.