The last time Valencia won a trophy was in 2008. Under the managership of the recently-much-maligned Ronald Koeman, they beat Getafe 3-1 in the final of the Copa del Rey courtesy of goals from Juan Mata, Alexis and Fernando Morientes.
Ironically enough, Valencia had had a poor season under Koeman with an average win of 32% in 34 matches. For many fans, this period of the club’s history was viewed as the beginning of the demise at the Mestalla Stadium.
Nobody knew it would last this long but 10 years and 14 managers later, Valencia seems to be back to their best. The appointment of Marcelino Garcia Toral was welcomed by many at the club as he was considered one of the few Spanish-based managers who could calm the waters at Valencia. After a very successful career at Villareal lasting 3 years 8 months, Valencia offered a new challenge to the Spaniard, a man widely admired for his direct attacking style of play.
This season, Valencia find themselves at the top of La Liga, four points behind the leaders Barcelona and an incredible four points ahead of Real Madrid in fourth place. Unbeaten in ten games with only three draws to their name, Els Taronges are clearly the team to beat in the highest division of Spanish football.
Victor Oria looks at what has been happening behind the scenes at Valencia to explain their return to the top of La Liga table.
Having joined Valencia at the end of the 2016/17 season, Marcelino had enough time to shake up the team and model it to his liking. Early on in his tenure, he shipped out 17 deadwood players with names as prestigious as Alvaro Negredo, Nani, Mario Suarez, Enzo Perez, Pablo Piatti and Aymen Abdennour amongst the list of those culled.
Eleven new players came in the opposite direction including Neto, Jeison Murillo, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Goncalo Guedes, Gabriel Paulista and Fabio Orellana, all of whom have played a key role in transforming this sleeping giant.
The season-opening 1-0 win at home to Las Palmas set the tone for what has been a formidable run in the early games of the season. That day, the goal was scored by Simone Zaza, a player who has flattered to deceive throughout his career but who has been transformed by his new manager into a formidable goal scorer with 9 league goals to his name.
Together with Rodrigo and Santi Mina, Zaza is part of an attacking trio which is working magic for Valencia. Currently, they sit second in the La Liga standings with 24 points from 10 games, having scored 27 goals and only conceded 11.
Big Game Mentality
While it is still early to consider Valencia title challengers, it is also too early to write them off. Of their 10 first games, Valencia have already played Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, and Sevilla, some of the biggest teams in the Spanish league. Earning themselves draws against the two Madrid sides, Valencianistes have also won convincingly against Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and Real Sociedad.
Against Atletico and Real Madrid, Marcelino set up the team to soak up pressure and push forward through counter-attacks using their wide men. It yielded two goals at the Bernabeu and Valencia would have come away with the win were it not for Marco Asensio who levelled the score late on.
This 2-2 draw against Real Madrid gave the team a confidence that has been evident in every match since then. The wins against Sevilla, Athletic and Sociedad yielded 10 goals, four of those coming up against a Sevilla team disoriented from the opening whistle.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Can Valencia win the league this season? This depends on how their nearest challengers perform. Marcelino seems to have adopted a ‘one game at a time’ approach similar to that employed by Diego Simeone for his title-winning season at Atletico Madrid.
Marcelino’s preferred formation is the traditional 4-4-2 with a combative midfield protecting a sometimes-shaky defence and wide men offering an attacking threat. So far, Carlos Soler, Simeone Zaza, Rodrigo, Daniel Parejo, Neto, Goncalo Guedes, Geoffrey Kondogbia, and Jose Luis Gaya seem to be the preferred backbone of this team with the rest of the players drafted to shape the squad depending on the opponent. Zaza and Rodrigo, along with forward substitute Santi Mina, have scored a combined 18 goals in the league with winger Guedes contributing four goals.
The team’s Achilles Heel seems to be the defence who have conceded 11 goals in the league. While Jose Luis Gaya is the only constant figure in the back line, Marcelino seems to not have found the right combination. So far, the pairing of Gabriel Paulista with either Ezequiel Garay or Jeison Murillo in central defence is still under test and yielding positive results.
However, as the season progresses, it is important that Marcelino finds a pairing that will stand out to build the play from behind. The same can be said of the right back position where Martin Montoya and Ignacio Vidal are still battling out to be the first choice.
The Road Ahead
Marcelino has instilled belief in a team that has been so hapless for the last 10 years. The backbone of the team is very good and a few key signings in January will help strengthen the team further. Given they have no European commitments, if they can retain the same level of form that they have shown throughout their campaign so far, then don’t be surprised if they are top of the table by the end of the season.
Of course, things may not be rosy as the season progresses but no manager has been so good at the Mestalla in the last 10 years. The fat lady is yet to sing but Los Che fans will be excitedly looking forward to a future under Marcelino.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?