Monday, September 28, 2020

La Liga Matchday #4: Real Socieded SAD 0 - 1 Valencia CF Match Thread

 Let's briefly go over some news as the team travels to play Real Sociedad in matchday 4.

The renewal of Racic's contract is complete. The midfielder's contract is extended to 2024 with a release clause of 150 million euros.

There is 1 week remaining in the summer transfer window, as it closes on October 5th. According to a recent comment by Javi Gracia, he is unaware of any progress on signings. He says that the last time he had a meeting with Anil Murthy was 2 weeks ago. 

With regards to the signing of Capoue from Watford, he had said earlier that just because the player displayed intent of coming to Valencia and submitted a transfer request, does not mean that he will arrive. 

With one week remaining on the transfer window and no communication from management, Gracia is evidently frustrated and rightfully so. It's looking more and more likely that the signings will be made out of desperation in the last moments of the window, if it all. Not even the performance of the last 2 games was enough to communicate any sense of urgency.

PREVIEW

Real Sociedad had a great game over the weekend. They took the confidence they had from holding Real Madrid to a draw in the previous matchday to their away game against Elche and walked out with all three points and a 0-3 scoreline. All goals came in the second half, including one in stoppage time.

Valencia had a tough time against Huesca at Mestalla. The away team made themselves at home and caused all sorts of trouble. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Despite behind on the backfoot, Wass helped Valencia take the lead from a set piece that travelled all the way to back of the net. Huesca peppered away at the goal for the second half, and finally scored, having been denied time after time by Jaume with some clutch saves. 

Real Sociedad currently sit 3rd with 5 points. Valencia are 5th with 4 points.

FORM

Real Sociedad: WDD

Valencia: DLW

SQUAD

The squad is boosted by the return of Cillissen from his injury. He starts on the bench though.

Alex Blanco, Kang In and Musah all make the starting lineup with Vallejo, Guedes and Jason benched.

Wass starts in midfield, leaving Correia with an opportunity at right-back.

Injury list: Paulista, Mangala, Soler, Cheryshev



FIRST HALF

12' - Real Sociedad with a chance at goal. David Silva spreads the ball wide to Barrenetxea who puts in a cross for Isak. The ball is behind the striker and he hits it with the back of his heel but it ends up over the crossbar.
17' - Yellow card shown to Kondogbia for a challenge from behind on Jaunzaj
22' - Kang In takes possession of the ball in the opposition half and gets a quick shot in, claiming the first shot on target in the match. Remiro saves the effort.
27' - Wass with a powerful shot from range that forces a diving save from the keeper. The ball is loose and falls to Correia who waits for it to arrive at his feet. The defender gets in the way and nullifies any danger.
34' - Yellow card shown to Zubimendi for taking down Kondogbia who had taken the loose ball off him and was on the break.
35' - Maxi Gomez strikes the free kick from a long way out. It is a tame effort and the keeper has no trouble saving it.
37' - Januzaj gets his team's first shot on goal with a low powerful drive. Jaume is up to it though.
38' - A chance for Valencia at the other end. Kondogbia with a fantastic diagonal ball to Gaya who pulls it back for Kang In. The youngster takes the shot but in the end the defender gets his body in the way of the shot.
40' - Short break as the referee gets in the way of Elsutondo's powerful shot. It hits him in the head and the medical team is called to tend to him.
45' - Two minutes added by the referee for stoppages
45+2' - Yellow card shown to Maxi Gomez for a late shoulder check on Merino

HALF-TIME

A relatively decent performance, especially for an away game. The team held their own against Real Sociedad, matching their pace. In fact, they had the majority of good chances in the half.

Most of Valencia's shots on target came from long-range shots. It seems like the players have been given the greenlight to shoot-on-sight this game. The players did well to hit the target when they did take a shot. 

The combination of Wass and Kondogbia in midfield brought a lot of control and prevented David Silva from getting the space he wants to pick out a dangerous pass. What the duo brought in stability though, they lacked in creativity. It was up to Kang In to provide that this game but he barely had time on the ball in the opening minutes of the game. As the game progressed, he did find more of the ball though.

The team needs to try a more direct route towards goal as these long-distance shots have not been effective so far. It's either been that or crosses from wide positions. There are players on the field and the bench who are capable of breaking down the defense so it might be worthwhile to attempt that instead. 

Half-time stats. 4-7 shots, 1-4 shots on target, 64-36% possession, 84-71% pass accuracy.

SECOND HALF

Change at half-time for Real Sociedad. Oyarzabal replaces Barrenetxea.

54' - Real Sociedad are getting a lot more time and space on the ball to do what they want. Kang In gets possessed in midfield, the ball makes its way to Oyarzabal who gets into the penalty area and forces a save out of Jaume with his shot.
59' - Yellow card shown to Daniel Wass for stomping on the foot of David Silva
61' - Yellow card shown to Gaya for taking down Januzaj after he got away from him
62' - Januzaj hits the free kick straight at Jaume punches it back into play.
66' - For changes for Real Sociedad. Portu for David Silva, Willian Jose for Isak and Guevara for Zubimendi and Roberto Alcaide for Januzaj. No changes remain for the home team.
65' - First change in personnel for Valencia. Gameiro replaces Kang In Lee. 
71' - Second change for Valencia. Toni Lato and Jason on, Alex Blanco and Yunus Musah off. Lato takes over the left-back position, while Gaya is pushed a bit further up into midfield. Looks like Musah picked up an injury.
73' - Gorosabel puts in a cross that deflects of a Valencia player and set up Oyarzabel for a shot. He takes it but it deflects again for a corner.
75' - Goal for Valencia! 0-1! Wass picks out Gaya with a diagonal ball to Gaya on the left flank. Gaya puts in a great curling cross for Maxi Gomez to hit into the roof of the net. Instant impact from Javi Gracia's change.
86' - Yellow card shown to Correia for taking down Portu.
90' - Four minutes added by the referee for stoppages.
90+2' - Final change for Valencia. Vallejo replaces Maxi Gomez.
90+4' - Goal for Real Sociedad. 1-1. The delivery from the cross is saved by Jaume and then some pin-ball action ended with Guillamon heading the ball into the roof of his net. 
90+5' - The goal is ruled out for handball! Sociedad's celebrations are cut short as Elustondo handled the ball. Valencia takes the win!

FULL-TIME

Well done. The team did well to not only see out the second half but to grab a winner and the first clean-sheet of the season to boot.

Despite having the bigger share of possession in both halves, Sociedad could not take any points this game. Valencia usually struggles away from home but tonight managed to take all 3 points from a tough team.

The goal can be connected to the changes made by Gracia. Bringing on Lato and pushing Gaya forward, allowed Maxi Gomez to get some much needed service. Wass distributed the ball to Gaya from the opposite flank with a diagonal ball, and Gaya puts in a cross across goal for Maxi Gomez to hit past the keeper. 

The rest of the game was a survival mission to hold out until full-time The defense continued its impressive display all the way to the final minute of additional time. There was a last minute scare as the ball was in the back of the Valencia net. However, there seemed to be a lot of action in the penalty area. Multiple players seemed to get taken down, including Jaume before Guillamon's attempted clearance found its way into the back of the net. The goal was overruled due to a handball that resulted from Jaume's initial save landing on Elustondo's arm. It would've been really painful for the team's effort to get undone in the last minute.

Full-time stats. 11-9 shots, 3-5 shots on target, 66-34% possession, 83-71% pass accuracy.

Gracia has made the most of a limited squad today. The defense today looked a lot better, despite the injuries. Maxi Gomez is showing that he can be a reliable source of goals for Valencia. Gracia has yet to draw out the full potential of the team though. If he can get the most of players like Kang In, Musah, Kang In and Guedes, the team gets elevated to another level.

Valencia temporarily take top spot in the league with 7 points but many teams have yet to play this matchday. 

Next game is on Saturday, October 3rd against Real Betis at Mestalla. Amunt.

Friday, September 25, 2020

La Liga Matchday #3: Valencia CF 1 - 1 SD Huesca Match Thread

 Let's go over some news in the lead-up to matchday 3.

The club has been working on a couple of contract renewals this past week. Esquerdo had his contract extended to 2024 with a 100 million euro release clause attached to it. Racic's contract is currently being negotiated with the goal of extension. 

In terms of transfer activity, Murthy should be travelling to meet with Mendes about signings. 

The club remains focused on securing Capoue from Watford, Gracia's former team. The press reported that Capoue has pushed for an exit from the club with a spokesperson from the club confirming this as the reason why he didn't make the squad list. The obstacle in this deal is the price. Valencia have offered 2 million euros while Watford want closer to 8 million euros. After some insistence from Gracia, Valencia may be willing to increase the amount to secure the deal.

The second most common name discussed in relation to Valencia has been Manchester United keeper Sergio Romero. With the club looking for an outlet for Cillissen, it seems Romero is the most likely replacement, if any. A figure around 6 million euros has been reported as the required fee.

From Portugal, there was a reemergence of news surrounding Leite's transfer to Valencia. Additionally, some outlets reported that Mendes is trying to facilitate a transfer of Jota from Benfica. The player has a minimum release clause of 30 million euros, so this one seems very unlikely.

PREVIEW

Valencia's last matchday saw them lose 2-1 away to Celta Vigo. It was undeniable that the home team outplayed Valencia in the game. A breakdown in defense and midfield set up Celta's first goal. Although Valencia would recover in the second half with a half-chance that was converted by Maxi Gomez, Valencia would soon fall behind again. A free kick was given away at the edge of the penalty area and Iago Aspas hit it perfectly to score. Despite change after change, the team couldn't turn around the scoreline. Celta had a few more efforts that hit the post while Valencia had some penalty claims which were turned down. Most of the discussion from press discussed the unfairness of VAR over the shortcomings of the team.

Huesca suffered their first loss of the season at home against Cadiz, a fellow newly promoted club. Despite having the majority (70%) of possession in the game, they succumbed to a 0-2 loss with goals coming around 10 minutes into the first half, and 10 minutes away from full-time. Negredo scored the first goal for Cadiz.

Valencia are 5th in the current standings with 3 points while Huesca are 12th with a single point.

FORM

Valencia: DW

Huesca: LD

SQUAD

The bad news coming out of the camp this week was that Paulista had picked up a muscle tear that will see him miss the next 2-3 weeks. This is a big blow for the team as he is the most reliable center-back. With Mangala having picking up an injury against Levante, this leaves Diakhaby and Guillamon to cover. The need for a center-back signings grows more with this news.

Despite recovering and training with team, Cheryshev has some minor discomfort so he won't be risked this game. 

Gracia did recover Racic and Gameiro from their injuries, and both are available for selection this game.

Injury list: Cillissen, Mangala, Paulista, Soler, Cheryshev

FIRST HALF

7' - Close call as Okazaki beats Guillamon for the ball and send a header towards goal. The effort is wide.

20' - Very sloppy play from Valencia so far. The team is having a head time stringing together 2-3 passes before losing the ball.

30'  - It's concerning that Valencia is struggling against Huesca for 30 minutes straight with no response. Most of the time is spent in their own half defending. 

37' - Goal for Valencia! 1-0! An expected goal against the run of play from a free kick in a unlikely position. Wass's delivery in the box sails past everyone and takes a bounce, Diakhaby jumps over it and it makes it all the way to the back of the net at the far side of goal. Strange goal to score but Valencia will take it. They needed some luck the way things were going so far. Huesca will be frustrated they went behind in such a way.

45' - Two minutes added by the referee for stoppages.

HALF-TIME

A misleading scoreline given the performance from Valencia. 

Huesca dominated the game in practically all aspects. They had more of the possession and most of the game was played in the Valencia half of the field. Huesca pressured high and hoped that Valencia would crack under all that pressure. They were frustrated in the end as they could not trouble the defense much outside of the first 7 minutes. In fact, they didn't hit the target once.

With Valencia barely managing to to put together a few passes, let alone get forward, it was a surprise for everyone when they took the lead. Wass took a free kick practically from the touch line, something like 35 meters out and manages to score. The intent was a cross of course, but it was smart to aim for the far post as it usually causes trouble for the keeper. 

Gracia has shown in previous games that he can identify problems and address them as the game goes so it will be interesting to see what his approach this game will be. Guedes seems to be playing with a lot of frustration again and appears to be a likely candidate for substitution.

Half-time stats. 1-5 shots, 1-0 shots on target, 46-54 %possession, 76-82% pass accuracy.

SECOND HALF

No changes from either team as they both head back out after the break.

46' - Diakhaby does well to deny Okazaki from getting into the box or crossing.

60' - Jaume with a great save to stop Saoune's shot, It was heading into the top corner but he managed to paw it away.

61' - Another save from Jaume. The cross looked like it would go over the bar but he gets his hand up correctly and tips it over.

62' - That's a third save in a row, this time from a header at point blank range. VAR checks and the ball did not cross the line.

62' - Borja Garcia replaces Juan Carlos for Huesca's first change of the game.

63' - Goal for Huesca. 1-1. This time Jaume could not save the effort as Siovas heads it past him. He needed help from the defense here under mounting pressure. Siovas was allowed a free header at goal. Jaume did get a touch on it but it hit the corner post and went in.

64' - Double substitution for Valencia. Musah and Gameiro come on for Vallejo and Jason.

65' - Yellow card shown to Galan for a heavy challenge.

72' - Okazaki volleys, despite pressure from Wass, the early cross from Pedro Lopez and hits the cross bar. Close call.

75' - Kondogbia tries a shot from range and forces a save from the keeper.

79' - Second set of changes for Huesca. Okazaki and Pedro Munoz are off, Ontiveros and Luisinho on.

84' - Good string of passes from Valencia results in a chance for Gaya but he misses the ball.

85' - Third change for Valencia. Kang In replaces Guedes.

86' - Guillamon with a major blunder as he gives possession away on the edge of his own penalty area. Thankfully, Mosquera rushes his shot and Jaume saves.

87' - Gameiro with a chance on the other end. There is too much power on it though and it sails over the crossbar.

88'- Final set of changes for Huesca. Rafa Mir and Ferreiro are replaced by Escriche and Joaquin Munoz.

90' - Five minutes of time added by the referee for stoppages.

90+4' - Final change for Valencia. Swap in midfield, Esquerdo for Racic

FULL-TIME

Again. Not good enough. The team has not only played out a draw with a newly promoted team but struggled to do just that. 

Having fortunately taken the lead in the first half, this was an opportunity for Valencia to put poor performance past them and build on it in the second. This wasn't the case. Valencia did do slightly better offensively but had big lapses in defense.

The goal from Huesca was coming. Multiple saves by Jaume simply stalled it. It in the end it was all undone with just one corner. There could've been more with chances from Okazaki's volley and Guillamon giving the ball away in a dangerous position. Kondogbia and Gameiro could only give Valencia half-chances.

Overall disappointing and will give Gracia something to think about. These 3 games were an opportunity to build momentum. An opportunity that was taken.

Full-time stats. 5-17 shots, 2-4 shots on goal, 48-52 %possession, 76-82 %possession.

Next game is on Tuesday the 29th away to Real Sociedad. A big step up in quality is needed for that game.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Valencia's transfer issues

We are now 2 weeks away from the end of La Liga's transfer window. Given Valencia's financial situation, little was expected but, with 5 key players departing, some movement was expected well before the season started.

How did we get here? The lack of European football is a factor. Even Europa league would have given us some 15 million to spend on transfers. A key issue people have missed is the Cillessen situation. The club were clearly banking on him leaving and for a reasonable transfer fee. (20 million?) His injury means it's very questionable if he should leave. He was rubbish pre-Covid and then found his groove after that. But besides, what a lot of people miss is that the financial problem goes back further than that. 

With money still owed for the transfers of Zaza, Guedes, Kondogbia etc, Valencia were short nearly 30 million in the 2018-19 accounts. The obvious way to solve that would have been to sell a player like Rodrigo. Instead, the club took a more creative approach, doing a financial fiddle with Barcelona. The latter had a surplus for that season due to still getting money from the Neymar move but needed cash to fund Greizmann's arrival.

The solution? 

At Barcelona, Cillessen was fed up being a useless bench warmer and wanted regular playing time.

At Valencia, Neto was fed up having regular playing time and wanted to be a useless bench warmer.

So Neto moved to Barcelona for 28 million with the transfer effective in the 2018-19 season. Cillessen moved to Valencia for 35 million with the transfer effective in the 2019-20 season. 

That's important because effectively it meant Valencia "kicked the can down the road" (=delayed the problem to a later date.) We all applauded that at the time, allowing us to keep key players, but it caused probably more good than bad, as it added 35 million of problems this summer.

Where do we stand position by position now?

At goalkeeper, Cillessen look decent if we can keep him. Jaume has always looked a solid number 2. If the club wants to dispose of the first and rely on the second, our problems will only worsen. Jaume is not a top four keeper.

Left back is one of the only positions that looks solid. Gaya is one of our few remaining world class players. Lato and Centelles offer great cover. Lato has been linked recently with an exit, with Espanyol rumoured to be interested, but if he stays that would be one of the last three positions to cover.

Central defence is a fiasco. Paulista looks the only solid option. Guillamon looked good in the limited games he played but we need more time to judge him. Diakhaby must be doing something right to earn the coach's trust. Mangala has no one's trust. At least one experienced body is needed here.

Right back looks shaky. By common consent, after looking way out of his depth pre-Covid, Thierry might have something to offer, but it's still a maybe as he's only played around 180 minutes post-Covid competitively. Wass looks very shaky at right back and looks better in midfield. A new body is needed here.

Left wing looks more or less covered. Guedes continues to be an expensive bust, but Cheryshev (if he doesn't leave), Kang-In, Soler, Vallejo etc can cover that.

Central midfield has been significantly weakened. I miss Coquelin as much as Parejo. The failure to land Herrera is an indictment of the club's "act first, think later" planning. Esquerdo is not a player I'd give up on, but I'd like him to be brought in gradually. Kondogbia, let's face it, will get injured for a month or two sooner or later. Soler seems to play wide. Racic looked good but again, it's early days (let's remember that players like Orellana and Sobrino etc had blinding debuts for us: Sobrino scored and assited in his first game) so we need an extra body at least.

Right wing has seen a great debut by Musah but a young player like that does not yet have the stamina. With Soler there and Wass possible an extra addition would be good but is not a priority. EDIT: As pointed out in the comments, Jason is also an option here.

Up front, Maxi has been good so far. Kang-In and Vallejo had very good starts. Gameiro is still to play, is injury prone, and may leave. Depending on his wage and offers, I'd probably keep him, not because I think he's great but because I doubt we get any improvement in the market and Gameiro is a decent sub option. Sobrino is as useless as tits on a boar and even with the shortness of bodies I'd move him on.

So, overall positions to reinforce in order are:

Central defence

Central midfield

Right back

Right wing

Forward.

Will we get anyone? A big worry for me is that clearly, like Prandelli before him, Gracia was promised a certain number of reinforcements only to find the club has lied to him. It's spectacularly stupid since we're running out of people stupid enough to take the job and it will only decline as our league positions decline. All these managers talk to each other and if they do end up pushing Gracia out, the people they interview will naturally turn to him for advice only to be given the truth: Meriton are not to be trusted.

For me, 2 or 3 good and experienced replacements could give us a shot at European places (6th is needed for Europa league if the cup winner is in the top 5 and 7th gets us the new UEFA Conference league.) No replacements means we're looking at 10th to 12th and losing our young talents. I'd like to be confident but these guys have let us down so many times that my confidence is shot. 







Friday, September 18, 2020

La Liga Matchday #2: Celta de Vigo 2 - 1 Valencia CF Match Thread

Valencia finished the last matchday as group leaders and will take that with them in their first away game against Celta Vigo.

Let's briefly go over some news from the Valencia camp. A lot of articles this week have been linking various players to Valencia as transfer targets. The list grows by the day, yet still not a single move has been made. This has been quite frustrating. So much so that it has recently come out that a recent meeting between Javi Gracia and Murthy ended in anger and the latter storming out. The timeline on this is just before the Levante pre-game press conference where Gracia delivered those strong words at management.

The line that was missed in that conference was one where he questions if the team will make signings needed to elevate the quality of the team. This was originally interpreted as a critique of the lack of signings in general but it has become evident that this was a critique in the quality of the signings. 

Reports this week have mentioned that Javi Gracia identified 5 reinforcements for his team after he learned that the club's plan to sell some major players. A lot of this information was available to him before he joined. He was promised that signings will be made and has generally been upset with the absence of any thus far. He wanted a striker, a central defensive midfielder, a central defender and a right-back and a goalkeeper. He gave the clubs two names: Capoue (if Herrera was not available) and Pepe Reina (if Cillissen leaves). The rest he left for the club to decide. 

Javi Gracia watched one player after the other be targeted unsuccessfully and then learned that Murthy had in fact been targeting players of a different profile altogether. The players on the list were either free players or those that could be secured on loan deals without compulsion in purchase. The quality of the players on the list was the most shocking to Gracia as a lot of them are over 30 years old, unproven and in one case from the third division. The statement from the conference was pointing to the fact that Gracia believes the quality in this list is insufficient to elevate Valencia. All of this was reported by Plazadeportiva.

PREVIEW

Valencia come in this game on the back of a surprising 4-2 comeback win in the derby against Levante at Mestalla. The start of the game had Valencia looking like a relegation level team after conceding in the first 30 seconds and giving Levante 2-3 more very dangerous chances in the following minutes. Valencia managed to respond with a set-piece header from Paulista. Levante would take the lead again twice, the first overruled by VAR. Valencia would comeback again, turning an unfavorable 2 v 6 into a goal thanks to the combination of Kang In and Maxi Gomez. Substitute Manu Vallejo would grab 2 goals in the second half, the second of which was in stoppage time, to secure the win.

Celta Vigo played out a very even game away to Eibar in their first matchday. The game ended with a 0-0 scoreline. 

Valencia currently sit top of the league with 3 points while Celta are 9th with 1 point.

SQUAD

News this week also revealed that Rivero was almost loaned to Malaga before the Cillissen's injury but that has been cancelled since it is believed the injury will extend past the transfer window close date. He will be on the bench again to cover for Domenech.

With Mangala being injured last game, Gracia will have to rely on Diakhaby or Guillamon to partner Paulista. Molina is also available if needed. Lato has been recovered from his injury.

In midfield, Soler tore a muscle during training, and will be out for 3-4 weeks. This is unfortunate as the player had just started training again with the team. With Cheryshev also out with a recent injury, Koba Lein is called up from the youth team. Jason has also recovered from his injury and will be available for selection. It was questionable whether Racic would make the squad after some intense wisdom tooth pain.

In offense, Gameiro has recovered but is not yet ready for the game. No changes from the previous game as Alex Blanco covers for his absence if needed.




Bench: Rivero, Guillamon, Lato, Thierry, Centelles, Molina, Koba Lein, Jason, Sobrino, Vallejo, Alex Blanco

FIRST HALF

10' - Several chances for Celta in the opening 10 minutes. Mild efforts but efforts nonetheless.
13' - Goal for Celta Vigo. 1-0. The defense exposed once again. Four players around Nolita and they couldn't stop him. He drives through towards goal and plays a through ball for Iago Aspas who runs around the keeper and pokes it into the net. VAR is checking for offside after the linesman initially overruled it.
14' - Paulista seems to have picked up a knock after that last play. Hopefully he's okay.
15' - The goal stands as Wass had just played him onside. Valencia have to come back from behind for the second game in a row.
20' - Kondogbia with a shot from distance, but it's just wide of goal. Good effort.
24' - Yellow card shown to Tapia for a tackle from behind on Maxi Gomez
34' - Some disagreement between Gaya and Kang In over who should take the free kick. Eventually, Wass gets the ball to Gaya and Kang In walks off in frustration. 
45' - Two minutes added by the referee for stoppages.

HALF-TIME

Disappointing half. Valencia conceded early, not as early as last game, but in similar fashion. The complete collapse of the defense and midfield at the hands of a few opposition players. Why was Nolito allowed to carry the ball that long with 4 Valencia players around him?

When they went down, Valencia did not respond as they did last game. Celta's dominance persisted throughout the half. The only chances from Valencia came from a Kondogbia shot and some crosses that just missed their mark. From these, not a single shot actually hit the target.

Half-time stats. 8-3 shots, 4-0 shots on target, 46-54 % possession, 81-84 % pass accuracy.

Gracia's half-time adjustments changed things last game. Change is needed again. Let's see if he can impact the course of the game again.

SECOND HALF

45' - Double change for Valencia. Guedes and Kang In off, Vallejo and Jason on
46' - Goal for Valencia! 1-1! First shot on target by Maxi Gomez and it's a goal! Kondogbia finds Jason in midfield who does the same for Wass's advanced run. Wass puts in the cross and Maxi strikes it first time and into the net! Great team effort. Maxi refuses to celebrate the goal against his former side.
54' - Yellow card shown to Esquerdo for a strong follow through on the tackle on Nolita. Free kick given away in a dangerous position.
56' - Goal for Celta Vigo. 2-1. Iago Aspas scores directly from the free kick. After spending so much time setting up the way and adding additional players behind it to prevent a shot under the wall, Iago Aspas simply goes for the top corner and scores.
58' - Paulista misjudges the trajectory of the long ball which results in Nolito going clean through on goal, 1v1 against Domenech. Jaume manages to save the shot and the ball is cleared. That could've been much worse
64' - Paulista gets a header on target from a cross, forcing the keeper to save and push it over the crossbar.
65' - First set of changes for Celta. Denis Suarez and Beltran are replaced by Yokuslu and Miguel Perez
71' - Third substitution for Celta. Emre Mor is taken off, and Brais Mendes come on to take his spot.
72' - Gracia with another change for Valencia. Correia replaces Esquerdo. This sees Wass move to midfield and Correia take over at right-back.
79' - Final set of changes for Celta. Murillo and Tapia are replaced by Araujo and Gabriel Veiga Novas
83' - Almost a third goal from the away team as Brais Mendes's shot hits the crossbar.
84' - Final change for Valencia. Sobrino replaces Musah. Miguel hits the Valencia post as soon as play restarts. Celta could be up a few goals now.
87' - Celta temorarily down to 10 men after Aidoo walks off due to a head injury from a clash with Vallejo.
90' - Seven minutes of additional time is signaled by the 4th official.
90+1' - Yellow card shown to Okai for a tackle from behind on Wass.
90+2' - Maxi Gomez takes the resulting free kick and hits it low, managing to force a save from the keeper.

FULL-TIME

A chance to build momentum is not taken by Valencia. Celta take all three points and give Gracia quite a bit to think about.

The frailties shown against Levante are now beginning to appear as a persisting problem rather than a one-time thing. If management wasn't convinced that quality signings were needed, hopefully this will wake them up.

Unfortunately, the defense wasn't the only problem this game as the midfield looked very permeable and ineffective both offensively and defensively.

Kang In and Guedes had an especially disappointing game, with those two often expected to be the difference makers in a game. Their head was completely out of the game and it manifested as poor attitude towards the game.

Vallejo and Maxi have shown that they are capable of converting chances when they are provided with the service. Today, there wasn't much service, let alone quality service. The one good chance that Valencia got was converted by Maxi Gomez to cancel out Celta's first half goal.

Esquerdo again involved in the action as he gave away the free kick which Iago Aspas converted to get ahead. He cannot be solely blamed though as the opposing player was given plenty of space and forced a tactical foul from Esquerdo with no backup available.

Full-time stats. 23-9 shots, 6-3 shots on target, 52-48 % possession, 81-81 % pass accuracy.

Next game is Saturday the 26th at Mestalla against Huesca.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Javi Gracia's first post-match press conference

 Javi Gracia gave his first press conference after a competitive game following the Levante match. I thought it would be interesting to see what he said and what it tells us about the new guy. The video is here in Spanish

First, here's a translation of what he said:

(ASKED TO GIVE AN OVERVIEW OF THE GAME.)

"Yes, it is true that the game had different periods. I think the opponent started better, they dominated more in the first half. Despite that dominance and them being better with the ball as well, I think reaching the break with that 2-2 kept us in the game, also the result of the goal from set pieces and the effort that the team has made despite not being fluid and being unsettled. Then, in the second half, it is true that , little by little and without starting the half very well, we were growing and improving with the passing of the minutes. It was the work of everyone, those who started that the game matured well and those who entered, who were decisive in achieving the final result. Today's result is down to the whole squad of 23 and I think it has been reflected that way. I leave with good feelings in terms of the physical condition that allowed us to fight until the end, in a week where there have been many problems and many absences. But in spite of everything, I think we endured very well and we have managed to prevail in that section in which the two teams were already lacking strength ".

(NEW MIDFIELDER NEEDED?)

"I am very happy with the victory and I would like to highlight those who are there, those who have made this effort, more than the absences. I already spoke about it the other day about it and I prefer not to do it again. "

(ISN'T GUILLAMON BETTER PLAYING THE BALL OUT FROM THE BACK?)

"I agree that we were not fluid with the ball and that is why we conceded the first goal in the way we conceded it, right after we started. It is true that Guillamón gives us that, but each player has a series of virtues but when choosing the eleven or balanced teams, I try to find what I think is best for all phases of the game, not just for the start playing out from the back. Without wanting to detract from the player, I think he is a very valid option and that he will show it throughout the season. But it is the first game, I think those who have participated have done very well and I want to share this victory with all of them."

(THE NEED FOR REINFORCEMENTS?)

"Today's result does not change the team's requirements. The situation is the same, it is what it is, but it is true that it shows us that the players we have, despite their youth, are capable of competing in the First Division. Cases like Yunus Musah, who made his debut the way he did at 17. The case of Vicente Esquerdo, starting for the first time in a league match and competing at the level that he has done. That makes us see that we have our virtues in this squad. Now, the analysis we have made of it from my point of view, I think they have already been done and I think it is not good for anyone to be constantly repeating it, especially after a game like the one we played today. "

(YUNUS MUSAH STARTING THE GAME)

"I think that, of course, the credit for what players like Yunus do, belongs to the player himself. There is the maturity of a player. Despite his youth, he has shown unusual maturity and, enduring the time he has been on the field, with the level of demand that he has done, it is something to be applauded and we need to take care of him so that he, in the future, continues to grow and contributes much more to Valencia ".

(DEFENSIVE ERRORS)

"I think the result should not hide the things that we did wrong. I think that, defensively and especially in that first half, we were very fragile and very weak, which we weren't in friendly matches. I didn't feel that was an issue in training. Therefore, it is something to study, to continue working on and to try to ensure that in the next matches it does not happen to us. I hope we will score four goals in all games, but it will be difficult. We have to try to be a team that concedes less, I already said it in my presentation ".

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Overall, I'm impressed with his first press conference after a La Liga game. He seems to read the game well. It's particularly good that he doesn't try to pretend that everything is okay. Admitting weaknesses is a sign of strength. Many previous managers (Celades, Marcelino, Pako etc) would usually not admit their faults in the press conference. Regarding potential signings, he realises he has made his point and therefore wisely is not going to push it. It's early days with Gracia but the sensations so far are positive. 

Lastly and on another topic, I finally got around to updating my spreadsheets, which cover appearances, goals, subs and cards for the period from 2015 to present. Here is the link.




Saturday, September 12, 2020

La Liga Matchday #1: Valencia CF 4 - 2 Levante UD Match Thread

Valencia start off their first game of the season in a local derby against Levante UD at the Mestalla. This will be a great chance to evaluate the level of the team and hopefully build momentum in what would be the first of a series of "beatable" opponents.

Valencia's preseason was eventful. Javi Gracia took over as head coach and bean training the team on August 10. Key players like Parejo, Rodrigo, Coquelin and Ferran have all moved on to other clubs, another key player - Garay - had his contract expire with no renewal, Costa's loaned ended, while Piccini was recently loaned out. To deal with the absences, Javi Gracia heavily relied on the youth players as well as some of those returning from loans like Racic and Jason Remeseiro.

Valencia had 4 preseason fixtures in total, playing against Castellon (W: 1-0), Villareal (W: 2-1), Levante (D: 0-0) and Cartagena (W: 3-1) and remained unbeaten throughout. 

Levante's most notable loss in the transfer window was Borja Mayoral, who has been a rumored Valencia target, since his loan period has ended. Levante most notably brought in Jorge de Frutos and Dani Gomez from Real Madrid, while most other transfer activity was either free transfer arrivals or promotions from their youth team.

Levante played 5 preseason fixtures with some common opponents to Valencia's preseason. They faced Mallorca (W: 2-1), Valencia (D: 0-0), Cartagena (W: 2-1), Villareal (W: 2-1), Castellon (W: 1-0) and also managed to remain unbeaten.

The scorelines and results from the preseasons of both teams are actually really similar. Levante did play an additional game against Mallorca though.

SQUAD

The most notable absentees from the squad list are Gameiro, Jason and Cillissen, all missing due to injury. Lato is also not on the list, as he was not deemed fully ready after struggling with a muscle injury.

Due to the absences, Rivero, Centelles, Musah and Alex Blanco supplement the first team. Furthermore, Wass is listed as a midfielder and Guillem Molina gets on the list in defense.

Javi Gracia has recently expressed his dissatisfaction and concern with the lack of signings and had some strong words in his press conference. Anil Murthy's promise of having at least one signings before the start of the season was broken. However, the coach insists that those who are here are ready and can compete.


Bench: Rivero, Thierry, Diakhaby, Guillamon, Centelles, Molina, Soler, Cheryshev, Racic, Sobrino, Vallejo, Alex Blanco

FIRST HALF

1' - Goal for Levante. 0-1. About 30 seconds in before Esquedro loses the ball and is quickly punished for it. Morales runs into the box and perpendicular to the goal, dribbling past Kondogbia, avoids Paulista challenge and slides in between him and Wass before slotting it past Domenech at the far post. 
5' - Shaky start from Valencia. The ball is being given away time after time in dangerous positions.
9' - Gaya plays a pass along the touchline for Guedes to run into. Guedes sends a low cross into the box aimed at Maxi Gomez but the defender gets there ahead of him.
11' - Goal for Valencia! 1-1! Kang In sends the corner all the way to the far side where Paulista had found a pocket of space. Paulista just manages to squeeze the header between the keeper and the post. The service and goal-scoring from corners was really lacking last season, so this is great to see.
16' - First change of the game for Valencia as it looks like Mangala has picked up an injury. Diakhaby is his replacement.
18' - Goal for Levante. 1-2. Total pin-ball chaos at the back for Valencia. Diakhaby was drawn out of position and out of his penalty box. Morales gets the cross in which results in shot after shot at Jaume which he blocks one after the other. The ball falls to just inside the box where Melero strikes it into the net. 
19' - VAR is checking the goal and after a few minutes the goal is overruled due to handball. Lucky break for Valencia. Back to 1-1. The defense looks really vulnerable.
34' - Jaume Domenech with a fantastic save to deny Levante from taking the lead. Morales picks out Miramon in space on the right flank and continues his run into the box. Miramon sends a cross to the near post and Morales is there to head it but Jaume stop it.
36' - Goal for Levante. 1-2. The ball is given away by Guedes in a dangerous position just outside the box. Levante string together some passes between a square of players before picking out Morales centrally at the edge of the box. Diakhaby is drawn out to deal with him but he dummies his challenge before picking out the top right corner of goal. Nothing Jaume can do about that.
39' - Goal for Valencia! 2-2! Kondogbia plays the ball out from the back and finds Maxi Gomez in the center of the pitch. The striker turns away from the defender and spreads the ball out wide to Kang In. The youngster takes a few touches and is patiently waits for Maxi Gomez to make the incisive run in the box, threading in a fantastic through-ball. Maxi takes a touch and fires the ball across goal into the far post.
44' - Maxi plays the ball into space for Musah to run into which he does, managing to stay onside. He holds his run and waits for his teammates after a heavy touch. He pulls the ball back for Maxi Gomez at the edge of the penalty box where the striker tries a shot from distance that is spilled by the keeper. No one is in a good position to take advantage of the spill.
45' - Two minutes added by the referee for stoppages.

HALF-TIME

Mixed reaction at half-time. On the one-hand this is some of the worst defending from Valencia on display. On the other hand, this is quite a good showing in attack. 

Levante took the lead quite early with a complete collapse at the back. Valencia would continue giving the ball away and could've fell even further behind. The one chance that Valencia got from a corner was well-taken. Being a threat from these set pieces will add an extra dimension to Valencia's attack that was lacking in previous seasons.

Mangala's injury resulted in an early substitution for Valencia. Hopefully, these injuries don't persist like they did last seaosn. His replacement Diakhaby would be caught several times out of position, both resulting in goals. The first over-turned by VAR and the second stands. 

Valencia would equalize for the second time out of nothing. It was a 6v2 at the back with Levante outnumbering the Valencia players yet patience from Kang In and smart movement from Maxi would unravel their defense. 

Kang In, Maxi Gomez and Yunus Musah have really stood out this first half. They seem the most alert, most determined and are fully of energy. Naturally, they have caused the biggest problems for Levante. Javi Gracia really needs to sort out the defense in the second half. Even experienced players like Mangala and Paulista have looked very fragile against this Levante offense.

Half-time stats. 2-2 goals, 4-8 total shots, 4-5 shots on target, 44-56 %possession, 82-84% pass accuracy.

SECOND HALF

53' - Kondogiba does well to dispossess Levante in his own half. He quickly finds Guedes who drives the ball forward. He looks up and finds Musah's run and picks him out. He out paces his marker and gets into the box before taking a shot that hits the frame of the goal. Great chance!
59' - First substitution for Levante. Dani Gomez replaces Sergio Leon
62' - Yellow card shown to Rober Pier for a heavy challenge on Maxi Gomez
71' - Triple substitution for Valencia. Cheryshev, Racic and Vallejo come on for Guedes, Esquerdo and Kang In
72' - Wass with a wonderful diagonal ball that sets Vallejo up for a one-on-one against the Levante keeper. Unfortunately he could take advantage of the opportunity and had his shot blocked.
74' - Goal Valencia! 3-2! The substitutions by Gracia team up for the goal. Cheryshev puts in an early cross into the box. Maxi Gomez lets the ball go through for Manu Vallejo, who takes one touch away from the defender and scores past the frozen keeper. It's nice to see both forwards looking sharp and lethal.
76' - Double change from Levante. Vukcevic and de Frutos come on for Melero and Bardhi
84' - Musah goes down from fatigue and some cramps. 
85' - More changes from Levante. Postigo and Coke on, Radoja and Duarte off.
87 - Final substitution for Valencia. Musah is finally taken off, and Sobrino come on.
89' - Yellow card shown to Racic for time wasting.
90' - Four minutes added by the referee for stoppages.
90+3' - Goal for Valencia! 4-2! Cheryshev intercepts the Levante's ball out from the back and brings it forward for a counter attack. Maxi Gomez is picked out with a through ball and looked like he would grab a second but his shot bounces off the post. Thankfully, it falls to Vallejo, who made no mistake and smashes the ball into the roof of the net.
90+4' - Yellow card is shown to Campana for dissent.


FULL-TIME

A winning start for Javi Gracia. After a first half where the team looked vulnerable defensively, there was a lot of anxiety. In the second half, this wasn't the case though as the team looked a lot more stable.

Valencia seemed comfortable in the second half. Musah almost grabbed a goal in the opening few minutes of the half. Javi Gracia made a triple substitution all of whom would change the game. Talk about impactful subs.

Racic brought much need calm and collection in the midfield whereas Cheryshev and Vallejo would be instrumental to getting both the third and fourth goals for Valencia. They have definitely made a case for their selection in future games.

Full-time stats. 4-2 goals, 14-19 shots, 8-8 shots on target, 44-56 %possession, 80-86 % pass accuracy.

It seems likely that Javi Gracia will use the first half as leverage to squeeze one or two signings out of Anil and Lim. There is plenty of positives to take away and a step was made in building momentum. The coach has shown that he can make impactful decisions and made the team lethal in front of goal. The defense still has a lot of question marks on it though and he will certainly look to address that.

Next game will be on Saturday the 19th away against Celta Vigo. Amunt!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Official: Cristiano Piccini loaned to Atalanta

 The club has confirmed today through its website and social media accounts, the departure of Cristiano Piccini to Atalanta. 

The agreement between the clubs is a one-year loan with a purchase option at the end of it. The fee is reported to be around 3 million euros. Piccini arrived two seasons ago from Portuguese club Sporting CP for 8 million euros.

For many fans, the signing of Piccini did not accomplish it's intended goals. He was supposed to take over the right-back role thus addressing a previously vulnerable position for the team. However, his time in Valencia has seen him playing while struggling with injury, absent due to long-term injury or playing after a long period through recovery from injury. His injury has lead to Wass having a prominent role as right-back as well as the signing of Correia later on. With those two available and with Piccini being injury-prone, many would have wanted the club to push for an exit. He did play in parts of the pre-season games with Javi Gracia so there was some indication he could stay but it just wasn't to be. It remains to be seen whether a signing will be made in right-back or if Wass and Correia will be in charge of that position this season.

Piccini has sent a farewell letter to the fans in which he expressed appreciation for all the support, thanked his teammates and coaches, reveled in the Cup victory and provided some words of encouragement moving forward. Good luck to Piccini with his new team!