Thursday, February 14, 2019

Celtic 0-2 Valencia (Europa league)

I think a few of us were a bit nervous about this one, more so when we saw the match squad and team line-up, without our THREE first-choice strikers, left back and second-choice defender. It meant it was a very makeshift line-up, in fact I think we've put out a stronger line-up when facing third level teams in the cup.

Yet, it worked and the team eased to a comfortable away win barely breaking a sweat. Marcelino had read it exactly right tactically. Wass was on the left to give extra defensive cover and he and Soler covered their fullbacks, preventing them from playing it out from the back. Parejo and Kondogbia bossed the midfield and on the rare occasions they did get past there, Garay and Diakhaby were easily able to handle their attackers. We did what we often do, sat back, let them pass around uselessly and tire themselves out, then counter attack. Celtic looked about as threatening as an 80-year-old granny with a water pistol. It was only in the first 10 minutes that they did anything, forcing a shot from Neto with a stinging shot.

We dominated the game after that, Wass nearly scored with a header before we got our opening goal. Intercepting, then a brilliant pass through for Sobrino who had just stayed onside. Good decision from him, rolling the ball to the side for Cheryshev for a tap-in.

I struggled with lagging streams in the second half, but it was pretty much the same story. We were so confident that we took Parejo off at half time to rest him. The second goal was similar, great work by Coquelin, passing out to Wass who found Cheryshev on the wing and his cross allowed Sobrino to fire home.

Guedes came on for Cheryshev as a forward, but his time up front was cut short. Piccini suffered what looked like a groin injury, so Gameiro came on, with Wass and Guedes dropping back. Piccini's injury was the only black spot. Kondogbia did pick up a booking which means he'll miss the second leg, but it was soft and I suspect he did it on purpose so he can start the round of 16 with a clean slate.

Solid team performance. Great debut from Sobrino, good games from people like Wass and Soler who haven't been performing that well recently. Key players rested. Result. Of course, there are 90 minutes still to play, so we can't be complacent, but it would be a huge upset if we blundered away such a lead in front of our own fans. If Celtic can't beat our half strength team at home, they're not going to do it away.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Celtic - Valencia match thread

Usually, I would put these up a few hours before the game, mostly because, on my time zone, games like these are finished after midnight on a working night, making it hard for me to do a write-up until next day. With a match thread at least you all at least have somewhere to comment.

In this case it goes up early because we have a match squad which seems bizarre to me.

Only 2 central defenders and only 2 recognised forwards. The former situation is forced on the club. Gabriel is injured and Roncaglia has a 4-game suspension, which means Garay-Diakhaby are the only central defensive pairing available. However, this does make the decision to send both Murillo and Vezo out on loan questionable. I know the players themselves were probably pushing for it, to get more game time, but that meant that we needed to get in a player who was available for Europe. Bad planning.

Mina and Gaya also had injuries. The latter's doesn't seem that serious, but the biggest absence is Rodrigo, who the coach has just decided to leave out. I totally don't understand that one at all, with Mina out and Rodrigo hitting form recently. I thought the whole point in resting Rodrigo against Sociedad was so he would be fresh for Europe? If he was going to be rested for Glasgow, why not just play him the full league game vs Sociedad and then give him the week off?

So up front we have Gameiro, who has only recently started to get in form. With him we either have Sobrino, making his debut in a key European game, which doesn't seem wise to me. Otherwise, we have Guedes or Cheryshev as the second striker. Sure, the two have played there before, but the last time was the 2018 world cup last summer with different teams. A crunch European game is not the time to experiment.

The only conclusion I can come to from this is that Marcelino has made a strategic decision to go easy in the Europa league and prioritise the league and Copa del Rey. If so, that's very disappointing. I really thought injury-hit Celtic were there for the taking and these decisions make it harder that we can progress. Not only does progress give us instant cash, it gives us European ranking points which mean better seeding, easier draws and a bigger share of cash next time we reach Champions league.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Valencia 0-0 Sociedad

The first hour of this game will have been a great one for nostalgia fans as it was like any of the pre-Christmas games. Solid defence and very little creativity from Valencia.

Four changes from the previous game. Neto back between the sticks, Gameiro in to give Rodrigo a rest, Kondogbia getting his first start in the league since early November and Roncaglia making his debut in place of the injured Paulista. In fact, VCF went into this game with only 2 central defenders available, with Diakhaby serving the third of his 4-game ban, though he will be available for the Celtic game.

As I said, very frustrating first half. The team looked tired. I'm not convinced Parejo should be playing every minute. Sociedad passed the ball around a lot but threatened little. I was impressed with Roncaglia, who slotted in well and showed his experience. Conversely, the forwards and Soler offered little (Soler has been in poor form for a while) and Cheryshev only became a presence later in the game. Our passing was off and we struggled to hold possession or create anything.

The team only really woke up in the last 30 minutes, pressing forward and creating several chances. The best of them included a cross which Gameiro just missed, a Rodrigo header just wide and a curling shot from Piccini which was saved. I counted 1 chance the whole game for Sociedad, late on when Theo cut back to Sandro, who Gaya did well to block. One positive was the return of Guedes, who showed the odd flash, but will need more games to get back.

Overall, a bore draw, the third in a row and 16th of the season.

Friday, February 8, 2019

News round-up

Quite a bit of news has been pushed to the background recently with the club focused on Copa and the Barcelona game.

Diakhaby, of course, was suspended for four games, after being sent off after provocation at the end of the Getafe game. That should have been the end of it, but instead the president of Getafe, Angel Torres, relit the fires with an extraordinary tirade, lambasting Marcelino for events a decade ago when he was at Gijon, criticising Valencia for celebrating "as if they had won the world cup" and, most crucially, deriding Diakhaby as "morenito" a racially derogatory term. In response, Valencia have been considering filing an official complaint, even though Torres apparently phoned the club to apologise. I keep an eye on opposing fan forums and on the Getafe ones, though they're coming off with the usual ones about biased referees etc, most of them are saying he should just shut up and let it go.

Of existing players, both Kangin Lee and Parejo saw extended contracts, which is important for the club. In the case of the former, besides being a promising talent, the commercial potential of having a rising star of Korean football is immense. In the case of Parejo, he will always be divisive, but he has been at Valencia a ridiculously long time and is a motor through which the team moves. His renewal extends his contract to 2022 instead of next year, with the release clause staying the same at 50 million. He's currently 24th on the list of Valencia players who have played most games with the likelihood of him overtaking people like Quique Sanchez Flores and Carlos Marchena to break into the top 20 by the season's end.

Valencia confirmed several rumoured transfers recently. The official exit of Aderlan Santos was one. Good luck to him, he was utterly rubbish when here.

More importantly, VCF have secured, or are close to securing, the addition of several young players. It has to be said that Valencia's attempts to secure promising youth on the cheap in recent years has been more miss than hit. Bakkali and R De Paul arrived to fanfare, but were judged not good enough, though the latter may have been a mistake in hindsight. Medran, Racic and Maksimovic all have some sort of link to the club, but it looks unlikely they'll ever feature again. So the signings come against that backdrop.

The most important is Manu Vallejo, who turns 22 next week. He has a similar playing position to Guedes, playing as advanced left winger or centre forward. With Cadiz B, he netted 58 times in 94 games, before making the jump to Segunda, where he's been probably the breakout young player this year in the whole division, with 8 goals and 3 assists in 26 games, pretty credible for a midtable team and I'm optimistic about this one. The transfer fee was 5.5 million, with a further 3.5m in add-ons, 10% of any future sale and Cadiz having first option on any Valencia players sent to Segunda on loan.  

The second, joining us on a free transfer, is Salva Ruiz. He was once touted as a great promise at left back, making his debut at age 17 playing the full game in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey in 2012. By coincidence, Gaya had made his first team debut in the first leg of that game. Ultimately, Ruiz was let go, but the club has decided to give him a second go, though he'll rejoin the reserves.

Strongly rumoured, though not yet officially confirmed, are the additions of Jason from Levante and Jorge Saenz from Tenerife. The first has done well as a winger with Levante and would join on a free, while the latter would be 2 million and is a promising Spain under-21 central defender.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Betis 2-2 Valencia Copa match thread

Another draw! Valencia's 15th of the season but definitely one that the team will be more satisfied with than Betis. It looked like we'd screwed it up, conceding just before half time, with poor communication between Gaya and Jaume and the second was poor, Joaquin beating Jaume at the near post directly from the corner. There was debate before the game whether Neto should start instead, given that he has been in great form this season and that goal did Jaume's claims to start no favours.

So, 0-2 down, over and out? We hadn't even been bad, Rodrigo and Mina had come close to scoring before their first goal. To their credit the team rallied. The substitutions helped, with Kondogbia and Gameiro coming on and the latter was instrumental. Rodrigo fed a good pass to Gameiro in space to centre for Cheryshev to bundle a header past the keeper in minute 70. The game opened up, with Betis seeming to be unsure whether to push for a third goal, mindful of our away goal, or defend their lead. A defensive mistake nearly cost them, Gameiro getting on to it and making a good decision, centring the ball for Cheryshev whose header hit the bar. In the final minute of injury time we got a deserved equaliser with an excellent counter attack. Gameiro feeding Rodrigo on the left and the latter's pass was perfect for Gameiro to use his speed to get ahead of Sidnei to make it 2-2.

Plenty to improve. Dead balls, especially corners, remain our weak spot. Jaume and Soler among others had disappointing games (Gamiero should surely start instead of Mina) but the team did well to not give up and now has the edge of away goals, but has only half the job done.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Messi 2-2 Valencia

Valencia ended a good week with a combative display against Barcelona, coming away from the Nou Camp with a point, though it was after having been 2-0 ahead. A few changes in the line up, probably with a few players tired after the midweek exertions and the Copa game also coming up. Gameiro was preferred over Mina up front, Wass started instead of Soler on the right and Lato came in for the injured Gaya.

Valencia started strongly, putting down a marker from the beginning. A good move saw Parejo force a save from Ter Stegen and Cheryshev hit the post from the follow up. After the 10th minute, Barcelona began to take more control of proceedings, pushing up, passing around but finding the defence well-organised and it was Valencia that drew first blood. Messi was dinking around, trying to find a pass through, but Parejo dispossessed him and found Gameiro whose pass found Rodrigo. He made a great driving run then played an excellent ball into space for Gameiro to fire across Ter Stegen for the opening goal.

Barcelona pushed up, but got caught out again, Valencia broke and Cheryshev's cross was good, with Wass being bundled over for a penalty which Parejo converted in style.

Barcelona hit back later in the half, with Semedo going down in the area after taking a touch from Lato. It was dubious, but just about allowable under VAR and Messi slotted home from the penalty spot. Unfortunately, Gameiro had suffered concussion earlier after a clash of heads and had to go off to be replaced by Ferran.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Most of the time, Barcelona were passing around about 30 metres from our goal. We had the occasional breakaway with a couple of half chances falling to Rodrigo and Wass, but nothing concrete. In the 63rd minute, Lato lost the ball, Messi picked it up and managed to curl it around a group of Valencia players, with Neto having no chance. Though Gabriel was struggling a bit, he stayed on, with the welcome return of Kondogbia after a 2-month absence and Mina coming on for Rodrigo.

Overall, it's a little disappointing we couldn't hold the early lead, which would have capped off a great week, but we'd all have happily taken a point from this one at the beginning, with Barcelona coming in to the game with 8 straight wins in the league so this is a result which will keep morale high.

Neto 7.5 - had a very good game, making a number of key stops. Not a lot he could do about the goals.
Lato 4.5 - struggled in this game and was at fault for both the goals
Garay 6.5 - confident performance, especially in the air
Gabriel 6.5 - soldiered on from both head and leg injuries and was always well positioned
Piccini 6 - suffered from Barcelona targeting his side, but made a number of key interceptions
Cheryshev 6 - was an active participant throughout the game and unlucky not to score early on
Parejo 8.5 - an excellent game which continues his purple patch. Dispossessed Messi on more than one occasion and was a lively presence at both ends. We need him like this.
Coquelin 6 - a competent performance covering, through limited creation
Wass 5.5 - while he was involved in the second goal, didn't do enough in this game to stake any claims to Soler's spot
Gameiro 6.5 - very well taken goal to justify his selection, he's been playing well in recent weeks and it was a shame to see him injured
Rodrigo 7 - has returned to form and his confidence was clear to see here, great decision making for the first goal

Ferran 5 - Valencia were on the back foot for most of the time after he came on so his role was limited
Kondogbia 5.5 - great to see him back, but will need more games to get back to fitness
Mina 5.5 - worked hard at the end after coming on, but limited chances

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Transfers and transfer speculations

A lot to catch up on. First, news that went virtually unnoticed. Valencia finally got rid of Aderlan Santos, who joined Saudi club Al-Ahli. I haven't been able to find a transfer fee, so it's likely he went for free and if we did get anything it was peanuts and the club just had to take the loss of nine and a half million euros. Santos was a disaster from start to finish, probably the worst signing of the Lim era and, along with Abdennour, forming one of our worst defensive duos of recent times.

In a surprise move, Ruben Vezo went on loan to Levante for the rest of the season without a buy option. He's almost a veteran of the club, with only Parejo and Gaya in the senior team longer. He's never really convinced but was usually a handy back-up. His role this season has been more limited, with Wass preferred as the alternative to Piccini (who, it has to be said, has done better in recent weeks.) Alex Blanco was also loaned out to Alaves.

Kang-In has been confirmed as a member of the first team and sees his release clause bumped up from 20 million to 80 million.

For replacements, Valencia are said to be very close to an agreement to take Roncaglia of Celta on loan for the rest of the season with a buy option as the central defender. Ruben Sobrino of Alaves now looks the likely choice for the fourth forward. Neither one really excites me, but after last summer's spending binge, funds are limited. Valencia are still trying to get rid of Batshuayi, with English clubs Everton and West Ham reported to be interested.

More interestingly, recent speculation has linked us with Manu Vallejo of Cadiz, one of the breakout stars of Segunda division, who has scored 8 goals and 3 assists in 23 games this season, operation either as a winger or forward. He's 22 next month. The suggestion is that Valencia will pay 6 million, rising to a possible 10, with Cadiz keeping him for the rest of the season.

The window closes a day from now, so all will soon be clearer.