Monday, November 20, 2017

Why Valencia shouldn't (and won't) bring David Villa back

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: David Villa is a club legend on a par with Mario Kempes. His goals kept Valencia as a force to be reckoned with even when the club was struggling financially and most of us probably felt totally gutted when the news broke that he was on his way to FC Catalonia.

With Rafa Mir refusing to sign a new contract and on his way out, Valencia only has 3 main strikers, plus Guedes, who can play there in an emergency and Zaza's knee condition has been causing concern for at least a month. Luckily for us, it flared up during international breaks, meaning that he didn't miss any games, however, he was in visible pain when scoring against Betis. Marcelino previously stated that just resting Zaza wouldn't solve the problem. He will require some form of surgery. The problem for the club is that that could mean him missing a significant period of time, maybe 6-8 matches. As a result, the club confirmed today that they are going to postpone such surgery for the time being and hope that the situation doesn't worsen. This is a gamble not without its own risks as if the tear worsens, Zaza could be out for far longer, but Simone has been so key to the team that the club is unwilling to risk the momentum built up by managing without him. That's caused the issue of a backup striker to rise up the agenda again.

That's led many fans, such as in the comments section of the last match report to suggest the solution: Villa returns to Valencia, during the MLS mid-season break. The idea isn't without merit. He's been playing well in the MLS, earning a return to the Spain squad as a result. Adoring fans would give him lots of leeway and ticket sales and sales of merchandise would increase. For me, Villa will always be welcome back to the Mestalla, but in a different role. Coach, club ambassador, whatever, but just not as a player.

There are numerous reasons why. To start with, retreads can be hit and miss and sometimes and the whole exercise can just backfire. But from footballing and logistic reasons it doesn't make sense either. Villa hasn't played in Europe for 3 and a half years and the standard of football in the MLS is far lower than Europe. Had he been in his early 30s, I'd have been interested, but he's 36 next month and after so much time out of the bigger leagues, it's asking a lot to return to one of the world's top two leagues.

His age also raises other concerns as well. His injury history is impressive, but he is at a stage of his career now where he will be more prone to injuries. If we are covering possible injuries to existing strikers, then bringing in a much older striker doesn't seem wise. Most importantly, the player himself has consistently ruled out a return to Valencia or Europe, doing so in September 2016, December 2016 and again today.

But the main reason is a logistical one, the fact that La Liga and the MLS seasons are out of sync. The MLS season runs from 1 March until 30 September, with pre-season starting about 5 to 6 weeks before that, around 20-22 January. Why would New York agree to hand over their player so he can get tired out in the 2 months before their league season starts and miss pre-season training? Why would Valencia take a player knowing they'd have to return him in late February? Such a deal wouldn't make sense for either club.

Valencia does need to think seriously about bringing another striker in, at the very minimum on loan until the end of the season. Villa, for all the reasons listed above does not fit the requirements and would be an exercise in nostalgia, not football reality.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Espanyol 0-2 Valencia CF Match Report

Valencia CF entered the two week break with a historic result in the league, having broken several records this season, so it was on everyone's mind how will the two week pause affect Valencia CF, will such a long pause dampen our good form or energize the players even more thanks to having a breather in which they can take things down a notch.

Well the team continued in their winning form beating Espanyol 2-0 away from home in what was a more competitive match than the result would have you believe. Valencia CF might not have conceded a goal, but Espanyol came really close to scoring several times in the first half.

In fact Espanyol hit the post two times and forced Neto into saving mode quite a few times, with Valencia CF looking more and more likely to concede as the minutes passed by. Fortunately for Valencia CF lady luck was on their side today, barely surviving Espanyol's dangerous attacks.

Marcelino chose a different starting eleven from his normal one with Guedes, Soler and Zaza all on the bench, while Andreas Pereira, Santi Mina and Toni Lato took their place, with Lato playing as a left back and Gaya up front. Another smaller change was Paulista for Garay, though Marcelino has rotated the defense fair amount, but still it was a change from the average squad we've seen.

With so many changes to the team the fluid gameplay we've seen before was mostly gone and our attack dampened. Even our midfield which has been mostly stable before was shaky and especially Parejo who had several mishaps, few lost balls, several erroneous passes, etc...

The whole first half was weak football from Valencia CF, with the team mostly defending against very dangerous Espanyol attack, which basically pure luck saved us from conceding at least two goals. Neto was also on point and made several saves, but again it could have been different if Espanyol's players were 1% more proficient.

The second half got a little bit better for Valencia CF as we were able to mostly stop their attacks before any serious danger and with the arrival of Guedes and Garay the play stabilized and Valencia CF became a lot more cohesive.

It was soon after that Kondogbia would score and give the team additional boost of confidence, after which Valencia CF seemed the likely winner. It was a stunning goal as well, Espanyol's defenders crossing the ball outside the penalty area where Kondogbia was at, he side stepped to move into a better shooting position and a powerful and precise shot from long range ended up in the net.

Later on Soler came on Andreas Pereira and within a minute or two the substitution paid off as Soler sent a dangerous cross into the penalty area, which an Espanyol's defender managed to reach first, but it essentially positioned the ball to the oncoming Santi Mina who slotted the ball into the low right corner to make it 2-0.

Ultimately a 2-0 victory, but the result is misleading as this was a very hard fought victory that could have easily ended up in a loss or a draw if Valencia CF weren't so lucky in the first half. The team needs to improve to avoid such possibilities and I'm fairly certain that our standard players not starting had a big role to play in the poorer showing.

Toni Lato was also one of the weaker links as he did poorly in covering on the side and while he has huge potential he is still not ready for prime time.

In terms of reinforcements in the winter we could use a cover for Parejo and cover for Montoya. Even on the left wing we could use cover for Guedes, where now we only have Gaya. We could always use one of the youth players, but I don't know how ready they are, especially now that we are doing so well.

Player Ratings:
Neto 7.5 - Safe and secure at goal, made several saves and has been consistently reliable for us
Montoya 6 - Was generally secure at the back, though didn't provide much going forward and has no understanding with Andreas.
Gabriel 6 - Overall an average performance, had some troubles in defense when paired with Murillo, improved when Garay came in.
Murillo 5 - Not the best defensive display I've seen and seemed shaky and insecure often times.
Lato 4 - Was the weakest link in defense, lost his mark several times, rather poor positioning another couple of times and generally a weak overall performance.
Andreas 6 - Okay performance overall, did as best he could with what little he was given to play with, few decent crosses, few decent runs, lots of running back and forth and a motivated performance.
Kondogbia 7 - Did as much as he can defensively, not the most dominant performance we've seen from him, but a good one nonetheless, was better offensively as he was providing some good offensive passes and managed to score an amazing goal that set Valencia CF up for the victory.
Parejo 5.5 - Poor first half display, lost balls, poor passing, lackluster positioning. Improved in the second half, but wasn't even near his best. Did manage to intercept a lot of Espanyol's passes and thus improving his score a bit.
Gaya 6 - Wasn't a serious threat on the left wing, provided some decent crosses, but rather unimpressive performance on the wing. Was a lot more effective as a left back and doing a lot better defensively than Lato and linking up well with Guedes.
Moreno 5 - Was too selfish and tried to do everything on his own. Had few options to pass and make the better play, but decided to dribble or shoot and it ended up ineffective. Needs to learn to play more with others.
Mina 6.5 - Was the more dangerous of the two attackers and was rewarded with a goal late in the game. Overall good positioning throughout the match, did well with his shot for the goal.
Guedes 6 - Didn't really do much at all personally, but boosted confidence in the team and his direct and aggressive play seemed to put Espanyol on the back foot.
Garay 6 - Solid performance slotting in for Murillo and steadied the ship at the back. His bigger physique also added a new dimension to our defending.
Soler N/A - Provided sort of an assist for the second goal, it was his cross that lead to the goal. Did rather really good for having only 10 minutes of playing time.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fake fans and keeping Guedes

Valencia CF held its shareholders meeting in which club president Anil Murthy and general director Mateu Alemany spoke. Valencia CF president Anil Murthy basically reiterated what was written recently on the Valencia CF official website and went over how Peter Lim saved the club, how everything bad was due to third party forces and Peter Lim is actually an angel in disguise who can't do wrong, you get the point.

Personally I don't see why this push now? Why stir the pot now, why bring it up, why make this so important now? Couldn't this be said at the end of the season if the team actually achieves Champions League or at least Europa League?

Yeah we get it, there are some garbage "fans" who used violence and threatened the players and their families, no one with a brain supported that. No one sane supports violence and it was certainly misdirected at the players!

I think its also important to support free speech, people should be able to voice their opinions and anger if the team is going in the wrong direction, though the calls for violence should be replaced with calls for better play, criticizing the player and VCF staff for the sporting stuff.

The only relevant stuff to come out of the meeting was the information from Mateu Alemany who said that they are going to try everything possible to keep Guedes at Valencia CF, but that it is going to be very hard to do so, especially knowing PSG wants to recoup some money to try and get within fair play limit, having ruptured the purse and spend over 300 million on two players.

So personally I think they are going to be looking at selling Guedes, yeah he is playing amazing for us, but there is just not enough room for him to be playing regular football at PSG, so they are going to leverage his great season he is having with us to get as much for him as possible.

Best we can hope is to get him on one more year on loan and paying PSG 5 million for the loan, but again its going to be hard when they will try and get money to balance their financial sheets. Even acquiring Kondogbia is going to be very hard as Cancelo has barely played for Inter and his 33 million purchase option looks weaker by the day.

Not sure Inter are going to want to purchase him, in fact its looking highly unlikely. There is still a long way to go, a lot of matches to be played and he could get a more serious chance, but as of now its looking unlikely. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Meriton criticises "fake fans"

After months, possibly even years of silence, Meriton released a statement through the club's main website (here) where it defends its position and goes on to attack its critics in the Valencia fanbase.

The intro sets the tone: "Since Meriton took control of VCF, a number of fake fans from different sectors have tried to dominate the news about VCF and have sold fake news and lies to our real fans. These fake fans are loud and are motivated by self-interests, not the interests of VCF, and certainly not the interests of the real fans who form the silent majority."

The article goes on to laud Meriton's achievements, focusing in particular on the Champions league qualification under Nuno and the second place reached so far this season. It points out that many of the problems such as the debt, unfinished stadium, EU fine and so on predate Lim's ownership and are due to local sources, while Lim "invested more than 200m of his own money to save the club."

It then launches a scathing attack on these 'fake fans': "The last 2 seasons, fake fans sabotaged the atmosphere in the dressing room. They attacked the team bus and threatened our players. At Mestalla, they tried to intimidate the team instead of helping them as real fans would. This lame and shameless attempt to weaken Meriton didn't and will not work."

So what is the truth? The fact is that in some things, they have a point. Lim did come to the rescue at the right time, when no local sources could be found to put up the cash. The club was mismanaged badly before that by local owners.

There are clearly sections of our fanbase who are problematic and parochial and, regardless of the results, will never accept a foreign owner. Some of the criticisms did seem to have some racial undertones, dismissing Lim as a "chino" or Chinese when he's from Singapore, something as ignorant and stupid as calling a Spanish person a Pole (since the distances are comparable.) From that flowed some weird and wacky conspiracy theories, such as the one that Lim had bought the club simply to launder money (as though sinking 200m into an indebted football club is a smart way to achieve that.)

For all that, there are numerous problems with the statement. The first issue is the timing. As I pointed out in the previous blog, Valencia is in a fantastic place right now, so bitterly attacking fans at this moment seems odd.

The biggest problem is the total failure to admit that anything went wrong, especially in the last 2 seasons. The previous Valencian owners screwed up badly, but it wasn't only because, as the Meriton piece claimed, they had the "intention to benefit a very closed circle of people." In trying to play catch up with Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Valencian owners overextended themselves financially, leading to a cycle of debt which Valencia is still struggling with. But their motives weren't all selfish, they genuinely wanted the club to succeed, but went about it in an unsustainable way.

Meriton made exactly the same mistakes in the first year. The 77 points and Champions league qualification which they boast about was impressive, but it was built on a similarly false foundation. In committing to high transfer fees for players like Alvaro Negredo, Rodrigo, Cancelo and Andre Gomes, they stored up problems which soon became apparent further down the line. In the summer of 2015, Valencia had to make good on the commitment to pay all those transfer fees, 90m worth of spending which was only exceeded by Manchester City and Juventus. That meant that the club had little money to strengthen the squad for the subsequent Champions league campaign, which resulted in a disastrous season and mounting Financial Fair Play problems which forced the club to sell its best players in summer 2016.

Following on from that, it's totally out of order to dismiss the concerns of countless Valencia fans as just being those of fake fans. Numerous poor decisions were made in the first seasons of Meriton ownership and one of the things that drove a wedge between the ownership and the fanbase was the failure to own up to those mistakes.

The vast, overwhelming bulk of Valencia fans were hugely supportive of Lim's takeover. That only changed when numerous poor decisions were made which led to negative results, including the club finding itself in a relegation battle.

Meriton's statement would have been better if it had said something along the lines of "previous local owners made lots of mistakes, we came here to clean up those and had to invest a lot to do so. In trying to do so, with the best of intentions, we made numerous mistakes of our own. We realise that, have learned from that and moving forward, will not repeat that." That would have carried far more weight than attacking fans, blaming them for issues which arose from those bad decisions, indulging in self-congratulatory backslapping and pretending that the previous two seasons of shame didn't happen.

I do hope that they have learned/will learn but the statement doesn't inspire confidence and reopens old wounds at a time when people were forgetting them. The statement promises "a series of editorials" so we can only hope they improve on the tone of the first.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Smile, it's Monday (and Valencia are on fire)

It was a year ago tomorrow that I wrote this post after yet another poor display, while other media at the time described Valencia as being at "rock bottom" with 4th coach in a year Prandelli failing to produce the goods. The table made ugly reading with us in a relegation scrap, a full 11 points off the Champs league places. Honestly, to read some of the negativity on the previous blog, you’d think nothing had changed. I was going to comment there, but there are too many to respond to individually.
Compared to last year...
  • Valencia have equalled their best ever start to a season, the team is on fire, getting great results with football that is nice to watch. Rival after rival has been smashed: 6 at Betis, 5 against Malaga, 4-0 against Sevilla. 7 wins in a row.
  • Zaza has scored more goals than Luis Suarez, Greizmann, Bale and Ronaldo combined.
  • Rodrigo who I described back then as a player who “can't finish to save his life” has scored the same number of goals as Suarez/Greizmann/Bale. Even Mina has scored more than any of those “big names” despite being a sub most of the time.
  • Soler, one of the most promising young players in European football has emerged to strengthen our midfield, while Kondogbia is now doing what Enzo Perez couldn’t. In fact the team has strengthened in almost every position and has done so without breaking the bank.
  • We are now being talked of seriously as title contenders.
And if you doubt that anything has changed, I keep an eye on most of our rivals' blogs and we're scaring them. At the start of the season Sevilla fans sniggered about us as "a club that is ill, a disaster, lipstick on a pig." Now the same commenters are saying that we "continue to look potential league winners" or that we "look the best team in the league so far....have no European football to worry about and have a great chance to pull a huge suprise and win la liga." The fear and respect factor, absent for too long, has returned.

Do I need to go on….?
Is everything perfect with us? Not totally, but when is it ever perfect for any club? Our 2 right backs are inconsistent, the defence needs a bit of work, especially from set pieces, Soler has been a little off-form in the last month and there were a few negative headlines about the Zaza incident, though that was blown out of proportion by Madrid media keen to see us fail.

Valencia is benefitting right now from an almost perfect storm. Not only are our manager and players performing at the highest level, most of our opponents are below their best. Maybe that’s a temporary thing but right now the situation with our rivals is.....
  • Sevilla may have peaked. They don’t look like they’ve managed the change from Monchi and Sampaoli. Berizzo’s rotations are being criticised and their record signing Muriel isn’t producing the goods.
  • Atletico Madrid look stale. Greizmann is badly off form and seems to have his head elsewhere, probably on a big money transfer next summer. Maybe they’ll improve once their transfer ban ends and maybe they’ll spend the money gained from Greizmann wisely but maybe not and there is a growing feeling that Cholo Simeone may have run out of steam. An impending exit from the Champions league won’t help their finances either.
  • Real Madrid are struggling. Benzema and Bale are playing poorly and are being constantly whistled by their own fans. Ronaldo is off form and is starting to look over the hill. Still a star name, but his transfer value will drop if it goes on this way.
  • Barcelona are the only club that looks “with it” partly down to Valverde (whose departure from Bilbao weakens them, another plus for us) and partly because Messi is on another planet. Even there, there are problems ahead. Neymar has gone and his replacement has been injured and probably won’t be as good. Suarez hasn’t been producing, partly due to injury, but he hits 31 soon and his best days may be behind him. Most of all, there’s the delightful prospect, if you’re not a Barcelona fan, that Messi may leave for nothing, as he still hasn’t signed a new contract. So a player that Barcelona hoped would carry them forward or that they could at least get 400m for, could be out next season.
I still think the last 3 clubs will likely finish ahead of us at the end of this season, but even if that happens, we are favourites to finish somewhere in top 4 and return to the Champions league, a brilliant achievement when most expected us to scrape into the Europa league at best. But that’s just short term, the longer term picture looks even rosier. While we have the youngest squad of the top sides, they all face the challenge of having replace key players who are all coming to the latter part of their careers. Ronaldo, Benzema, Messi, Suarez, Iniesta, Pique, Gabi, Juanfran, FelipeLuis are all at least 30 and can’t carry their sides forever.

With the usual caveats about how it's early in the season etc, we may well be seeing the best Valencia squad since the Benitez era, so let's sit back and enjoy it and park a bit of the negativity. With that, I'll end my rant about your rants ;) with the words of Marcelino...
"Not losing any game in 38 is impossible. But let's enjoy the moment, the attitude, the points we have, the constant support that exists between everyone."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Valencia CF 3-0 Leganes Match Report

I think most of us who follow Valencia and La Liga had expected the same thing from this game: a tight game against a defence-minded opponent, with Valencia probably grinding out a 1-0 win. Consider this: in their first 9 games, Leganes had kept six clean sheets, conceding just a single goal in the other three, before losing 1-2 to Sevilla last week. Five goals in the first ten is a defensive record bettered only by Barcelona, so a 3-0 win against them is definitely something to write home about. We can all grumble about aspects of the game, but this Valencia side continues to vastly exceed expectations and equal records from the 1940s.

For better and worse, most of Valencia's team practically picks itself these days. Neto in goal, Gaya at left back, a midfield of Guedes - Kondogbia - Parejo - Soler with Zaza and Rodrigo up front. Montoya usually starts over Vidal as he did today and the only question being who will play odd man out among the trio of Garay, Gabriel and Murillo. The coach seems to prefer them in that order, but it was Garay and Murillo today. Even the subs are a bit predictable, Mina and Pereira will come on at some point, with Lato most likely to be next. Why change what works?

Leganes did indeed set up defensively and showed that their unexpectedly high league position is no fluke with a gritty performance. Valencia had few chances in the early period and it took a set piece to break the deadlock. Guedes played a nice one-two with Zaza and was fouled while breaking into the box. With Parejo sizing up in his usual territory, we all expected him to curl it over the wall towards the corner. Leganes had done their homework and expected the same, with the wall all jumping. Parejo hit a really excellent free kick under the wall into the bottom corner. A key goal at a key moment, as Leganes would otherwise have been more than happy to frustrate us for longer and wait for chances.

That goal forced Leganes to come out of their shell and they were the better team in the first half. In the 17th minute they played a dangerous ball down our right side, with Montoya caught out a little, but Murillo covered. Szymanowski had been one of their most threatening players and he shot over in the 32nd minute when he could have really hit the target. Beauvue produced worse before half time, shooting over with the goal at his mercy. Not a good last 15 minutes for Valencia.

Luckily, it turned out to be a blip. Valencia came out stronger in the second part. Guedes was ruled offside after a good through ball. Minutes later, he nearly scored. Great interception from Gaya, Parejo found Rodrigo and an excellent pass from him gave Guedes the chance, he cut inside so well, but hit the post.

Leganes had a few chances of their own, the Valencia defence wasn't covering itself in glory and another ball through the middle channel was only half cut out by Murillo, with Neto forced to make a save one-on-one. A speculative shot from 35 metres, which had as much chance of beating Neto as I have of playing for Valencia next season, and a dangerous free kick, saved by Neto, represented their best efforts.

Valencia killed things off in the last 20 minutes. Pereira replaced Soler in the 65th minute and was involved soon after when we scored the second goal in the 70th minute on a counter attack. Quality stuff from Kondogbia, who made a driving run from deep, holding the ball up long enough to pass out to Pereira, whose pinpoint cross was headed home by Rodrigo.

The only slight negative was in minute 78 when Zaza was subbed off, thus missing the chance to equal the record for consecutive games scored in. He was understandably furious, but public displays of petulance like that don't help the team. Mina, who replaced him, soon justified his place by winning and scoring a penalty.

Cynics might say we rode our luck a little. The defence looked suspect at times, most notably. But good teams make their own luck, forcing errors from the opponents and clinically finishing them. That's exactly what this season's Valencia does, when last season's would have lost 0-1 to a 60th minute goal, or conceded a demoralising last minute equaliser. Tonight's win guarantees that the game against Barcelona will be a top two clash. Hard to think of any better way to build the Valencia brand.

Neto 7 - a couple of crucial stops as ever and has been an essential part of this team
Gaya 6.5 - best of the defence, screened his side well
Garay 6 - never looked fully secure, but won a couple of aerial balls
Murillo 5.5 - a couple of blunders to cancel out a couple of key tackles
Montoya 5.5 - just not his season so far, with Leganes mounting a couple of attacks down his side
Guedes 6 - provided some great moments, but also a few moments of selfishness (minute 57) when he went for goal with players better placed
Kondogbia 7 - key presence as always and crucial contribution to the second goal
Parejo 7.5 - calm and controlling presence in the centre and excellent free kick goal
Soler 6 - didn't happen for him today and he's been below form for most of the last month
Rodrigo 7.5 - excellent performance, in superb form at the moment, scoring and creating
Zaza 6 - worked hard but didn't get the service

Pereira 7.5 - excellent cameo, proved to be far better than Soler on the right, hopefully we can use him for the whole season
Mina 7 - having a very good season, did well to win and convert the penalty
Lato N/A - not enough time

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Valencia CF planning to extend Goncalo Guedes loan deal

Valencia CF has begun work on retaining some of the players that are currently here on short term deals, such as Kondogbia and Goncalo Guedes.

Valencia CF is keen to keep Goncalo Guedes, but the club is prioritizing Geoffrey Kondogbia over him as they consider him more important in terms of the overall balance of the team and are willing to spend 25 million euros to purchase Geoffrey Kondogbia from Inter.

With any potential money that Valencia CF earns going into acquiring Kondogbia, Valencia CF have begun working on extending Goncalo Guedes loan deal with PSG for at least one more year. They know PSG squad is packed and the chances of Guedes getting any significant play time is low, at best he will be a frequent bench warmer so the option is to extend the load deal and pay an PSG an extension fee of up to 4 million euros.

Goncalo Guedes recently did an interview in which he stated that he wouldn't mind staying at Valencia CF and that he feels really good here, but again it will all depend on what PSG have in mind for him. PSG may even look to sell the player and get some infusion of cash in order to try and meet "fair play" rules. In case they want to do that Valencia CF will be out of the running as the team just doesn't have the cash on hand to be able to likely pay 30 to 35 million euros for the player. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Valencia CF to extend Rodrigo Moreno's contract

Valencia CF is looking to extend Rodrigo Moreno's contract as he's is the only one expiring rather soon in footballing terms, in mid 2019. Rodrigo Moreno has been a hit and miss for Valencia CF before this season, having had a rather solid first season, but then few weak seasons and he was on the exit door more than once, but he survived the exodus and has been much improved this season under the guidemanship of Valencia CF coach Marcelino.

He's provided crucial for this team and has playing in superb form so far, managing to attract the interest of the Spanish national team and featuring in one game for them, as well as attracting interest from other clubs.

Valencia's first order of business is to negotiate a contract extension that would have the player extend his contract to at least 2022 with increased transfer fee. Second order of business is finding money to purchase Geoffrey Kondogbia from Intel Milan, considering that Joao Cancelo was inured for almost 3 months from the start of the season and has only featured in one game so far for Inter, so the chances of him breaking into the first team and impressing, or at least impressing enough to warrant 25 million euros is low right now, so Valencia CF are looking for other way to get the money so they can purchase the player.