MOSCOW, October 22 – Sir Alex Ferguson believes Antonio Valencia is on the verge of proving that he can be a major player in Manchester United's drive for silverware this season.The Ecuador winger, signed for 17 million pounds from Wigan as a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, has struggled to convince the United faithful that he is up to the task.
But after claiming his first United goal in the win over Bolton at the weekend, Valencia capped a fine performance with a late winner in United’s 1-0 Champions League win over CSKA Moscow here on Wednesday, and Ferguson was quick to underline the importance of the display.
"He has been the plus point for the last two weeks," Ferguson said. "He is settling into the club, his confidence is stronger and he has tremendous assets for a wee player – strength, balance, feet and a good crosser of the ball.
"The area he hadn’t shown was goalscoring ability. We said when we signed him this was his challenge to progress as a footballer. Now he has scored two in two games and that will help him."
The win extended United’s unbeaten run in Champions League matches away from home to 14 games, equalling Ajax’s record on the road, as well as delivering the English champions’ first European win over Russian opposition.
With nine points from their first three matches in group B, United are virtually assured of their passage to the knockout stages of the competition and Ferguson was delighted with the display from a United squad missing both Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, the club’s outstanding performers this season.
"In the first-half I think we played with a lot of patience, which is necessary when you are playing away from home," Ferguson said. "Experience in these sort of situations is always vital. In the second-half I think we increased the tempo of the game and got more penetration.
"We created some good goal opportunities and if we have to wait to the 86th minute, so be it. We had to have the patience to win, and we did that."
Ferguson played down concerns over the condition of Brazilian left-back Fabio, who had to be stretchered off near the end.
"The boy is a magnificent player for 18 years of age, he was absolutely first class," the United boss said before revealing that the teenager had merely succumbed to a bout of cramp.
CSKA coach Juande Ramos believes his side still have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage despite taking only three points from their first three matches.
"We played well for 80 minutes but we tired and lost concentration and that cost us all three points," the former Sevilla, Tottenham and Real Madrid coach said.
"Manchester have already (virtually) qualified for the play-offs but the other three teams have an equal chance of progressing."
United were always in control of Wednesday’s encounter and would have taken the lead after an hour but for a fine save from Igor Akinfeev.
The CSKA keeper, rumoured to be a transfer target for Ferguson, threw himself full-length to his left to keep out Nani’s diving header from a Gary Neville cross.
Valencia went even closer to breaking the deadlock when he rattled the bar after an exchange of passes with Nani on the edge of the area.
The Ecuadorian’s efforts were finally rewarded with five minutes left when he beat Akinfeev after Berbatov had flicked Nani’s cross on to him on the right-hand edge of the six-yard box.
Anderson might have doubled the winning margin but the Brazilian midfielder contrived to place his shot from a similar distance wide of the post after Berbatov’s back heel had left him with only the goalkeeper to beat.