In the “I could get used to this” category, here is another guest preview from Peter.
Days after it turned out that DC comics does not in fact sue Valencia for its bat image, the team’s home stadium, the Mestalla, was fronted with a giant solar-powered bat that looks orange at day and shines at night, so that lost airplanes at night know they are in Valencia.
Most La Liga teams that are not Barcelona, Real or Atletico have problems after a season that guarantees European competition. Two competitions are too much for most teams, and top clubs and clubs with too much money are forever looking for the game changer. It would be no surprise then that last season Valencia reached the semi-finals of Europa League and was defeated on away goals in injury time by Sevilla at their own Mestalla stadium. Valencia finished last season 8th in La Liga, which prevented them from entering Europa League. And that is a good thing, for Valencia.
After a turbulent and rocky road with lots of curves and turnabouts, Valencia has a new billionaire owner. Peter Lim of Singapore had desired to become at least a co-owner of a football club for a long time, and after he made Bankia a promise they could not refuse, he was sold the club, lock stock and two Mestalla stadiums. Since then Valencia has shot up like a bat on Red Bull.
It is important that Valencia has less exposure this season. It is important that Valencia wins and keeps on winning, because players in a winning team have less desire to move to greener pastures. It is vital for Valencia that the team performs well, because it will mean a happy rich owner, and happy rich owners can bring sponsors, they pay higher salaries and finance the finishing of a modern stadium. A happy rich owner is more likely to try and retain youth academy graduates with promising futures rather than sell them to the highest bidder.
Lim brought Alvaro Negredo back from City (on loan), purchased Andre Gomes, Rodrigo, Joao Cancelo (who remain Benfica players, but play “on loan” at Valencia and are probably paid by Valencia) and reinforced the squad with young defender Mustafi to replace Mathieu. Together with youth academy graduate Paco Alcacer, this Valencia team has had its best start of the season since many years ago when the club was a real powerhouse. Like with Sevilla, it’s not just schedule that has made it so. Last year Valencia lost its away match vs Espanyol and drew at home. This season it was a 3-1 home win. Last season Valencia lost against Betis, which was mathematically relegated by Round 30.
Not having to travel and play additional matches every other week helps, but the squad is very strong, and this can be shown from other results: 3-1 vs Atletico (last season Atletico won it 0-1), 3-1 away vs Villarreal (last season newcomers Villareal won it 4-1). The team, unlike last season, is unbeaten at Mestalla, went to Anoeta and came out unbeaten, Anoeta where Atletico and Real went to get beaten and dismembered. This is the team which last season showed clearly that something wasn’t working in Barcelona’s engine when it came to Camp Nou and fought back from 2-0 to a 2-3 win.
Valencia suffered two losses this season:
Away to Deportivo La Coruña, precipitated by a Mustafi own goal in the first minutes, Away to Levante, which saw numerous opportunities for Valencia, and the winning goal for Levante was an absolute instant of brilliance by Morales just after Valencia had drawn at the other end.
So no, this is not an easy task for Barcelona, has never been, but this year it could be even more so. The Valencia team is young, with only two players more than 30 years of age – Joao Pereira and Javi Fuego, who are both … 30. They have stamina and motivation in buckets. I am not trying to be alarmist, but Barcelona has come from an away trip to Cyprus midweek and this will be an away trip as well. Alvaro Negredo warned yesterday that Valencia should and needs to take the game to Barcelona. Exactly what Nuno has in mind is something we would all want to know, Luis Enrique most of all, but signs suggest that Valencia would take advantage of the youth and stamina of the team, and the blaugranas’ lack of rest.
What are the strong points of this Valencia team? First of all, and contrary to logic, it’s the fact that there isn’t one single scorer. Alvaro Negredo has yet to score in La Liga, despite showing signs of improvement, but the best goalscorer of La Liga is young striker Paco Alcacer, sharing the chair with mid Dani Parejo, both having scored 4 goals.
Eleven players in all have scored, which means that Barcelona would have to cover not one single certified threat, but multiple ones. And yes, that includes Negredo. It’s not known whether Paco Alcacer will be available, but if he is, he will be a primary threat. Bat Nr “9” wasn’t called up for the Euro qualifiers by Del Bosque for his fun attitude, but to score goals (which he did, on three occasions). Bats manager Nuno in his media appearance stressed organized pressing as the key point, combined with possession in the forward zones, but even more importantly, he emphatically stated “Tomorrow we have to score. More than score, we have to win. We have to score and not concede. But we have to score, whatever the player, we have to score.”
Strong points are also set pieces and aerial play. Valencia has scored 24 goals this season. Almost one third of those(7) have come from corners, corner plays and crossed free kicks. Mustafi was responsible for three of those(two headers), but others like fellow defender Otamendi, Dani Parejo and Paco Alcacer have each risen to the occasion. Valencia rely a lot on crosses, because they play from the flanks, which enables the creation of one-on-one situations with a followed dash towards goal, or more frequently a cross towards a striker flying in from the blind spot of the opposition defense. Negredo almost equalized from such a position in the 80th minute against Levante. Had he scored, Valencia would´ve taken the point home.
It’s difficult to talk about the weak points of a team which has conceded a total of 8 goals in twelve matches, two of which came from penalties, but there are. Valencia play with possession and have generally played with a high line, so fast counters would generate threats. Second, Valencia play with possession: being on the receiving end of that same tactic could asphyxiate them and leave them without ideas. Third, and quite important, winning the battle on the flanks could be vital. Expect a serious duel between Feghouli and Alba on the Barcelona left if they both start. Same goes for the right flank.
From the evidence we could assume the following: Valencia may try to press and overwhelm, relying on the youngsters and going for crosses to the area, be they from open play, corners or set pieces. If they go for broke, we may see an attacking Valencia team trying to rush the flanks and fighting like mad to maintain and recover possession of the ball, knowing that doing so could put a stick in the wheel of Barcelona. One thing is certain:
This is a key match. Valencia the team know it. The fans know it. Hell, Peter Lim knows it. He announced that he will be present in the president’s box in the beginning of the week and made sure the Bats knew it. If he hasn´t arrived yet in the City of Valencia, you can be sure he is flying in his private jet towards the giant bat light, because it’s important.
Barcelona are coming to town.