Antonio Valencia is urging his Manchester United team-mates to put on a performance befitting the club’s reputation and stature in tonight’s Europa League semi-final clash with Celta Vigo.
For many pundits, United have been the favourites to win the competition for some time and that view was strengthened when the Reds were pitted against La Liga’s 11th-placed team in the penultimate round.
But Valencia feels the pressure to play well in the first leg, or indeed any match, comes not from being the side expected to triumph but simply from being United.
“I don’t think we are the favourites but we are Manchester United and that’s a responsibility we bear,” said Antonio, when speaking at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference.
“We have to demonstrate who we are and we have to show it tomorrow [Thursday]. We know Celta are a strong team. They haven’t lost their last five or six matches in this competition so we know it’s going to be a good match. We hope to concentrate, play well and get a good result.”
Valencia also feels the need to live up to a personal reputation that was enhanced recently by United manager Jose Mourinho describing him as the best right-back in Europe.
“First of all, I only have words of thankfulness towards Mourinho for his comments but I don’t think I am the best,” said the Ecuador international.
“I don’t consider myself the best. I just want to work hard for the team, I want to help the team. Mourinho has given me the confidence to do that – actually not only me, but also the rest of the players. I just hope to be able to demonstrate and give some of that trust back to Mourinho by playing a good match.”
Valencia could be joined in United’s defence by Phil Jones and Chris Smalling for the first time since 19 March, when the Reds won 3-1 at Middlesbrough – a game in which Antonio scored the final goal. The centre-backs were subsequently injured while on international duty with England but they are now back in the squad and ready to help the overworked but still impressive Eric Bailly.
“The Europa League has been a long competition and thank God we have regained two of the defenders,” said Valencia on the topic of team news.
“Juan Mata is also back so that is very good for us.”
As for the opposition, Antonio admitted “we’ve seen videos of him” when asked about Celta’s in-form former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas but added: “He’s in good shape and so are the rest of his team. But that shouldn’t be our concern. We should be concerned with working hard and doing our part and the rest will come.”
The ‘rest’ could include reaching and winning the Europa League final in Stockholm on 24 May, a feat that would take the Reds back into UEFA’s premier club tournament in 2017/18.
“This competition would give us the ticket to the Champions League, it’s true, but I think the most important thing for Manchester United is the Europa League trophy itself,” said Valencia.
“Manchester United has not won this trophy yet and that’s the most important thing for us right now. We’re definitely focused for this match.”