Friday, February 24, 2017

Orellana, Soler, and Valencia's New Midfield

When the 2016-2017 season started, Valencia had, among other problems, a definite weakness in its midfield. The team liked to play in a 4-3-3, which is a formation that is very physically demanding, especially for the midfield three, as they must simultaneous assist the forwards in pressing as well as cover both fullbacks. So when a team uses this formation, they usually try to have at least two alternatives for the midfield, both for rotation and tactical versatility.

Valencia, at the time, had just four midfields who could play in these three positions: Medran, Parejo, Perez, and Suarez. Aside from the fact that all four players had a history of being inconsistent, the situation was precarious because Valencia was never more than an injury and a suspension away from having no choice but to change tactical approach.

The coaches knew this: Paco Ayestaran tried to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and Prandelli tried to play Fede Cartabia in a more central position to little success, as well as playing with formations a lot to try and find a better way for the team to play. Both had little success dealing with their midfield, and it was more for a lack of personnel than a lack of trying.

So when Voro took over, it seemed he was in as difficult situation as his predecessors. He had the good fortune to coincide with two key turns in Valencia’s season: the emergence of Carlos Soler and the acquisition of Fabian Orellana.

Voro prefers a 4-2-3-1 system, which used to include Dani Parejo as the 10 and Mario Suarez and Enzo behind him. However, now he has much more viable options in front of him. Orellana’s brilliance as an enganche and Carlos Soler’s ability to play as one of the midfield pair means that his midfield options have tripled on the bench.

Now, Voro can start with Dani Parejo and Enzo Perez as the base with Orellana free in front of them, and on the bench he has a veritable tool kit: Soler’s legs and dribbling abilities, Medran’s creativity, and Suarez’s relative defensive stability. No longer is he limited to just putting in whichever one didn’t start, now he has much more influence and is able to make a change based on how the game is going.

This, along with Zaza and his ability to provide a reference point in attack, could be key as Valencia tries to keep its momentum going in La Liga, and might save our season. European qualification would be near impossible, but it’d be nice to say we tried.

What do you think? What else does the new midfield offer? What formations should we try? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Valencia 2-1 Real Madrid

I honestly wondered if I'd survive to write this. My nerves are shattered after that second half. It's an absolutely crucial win for Valencia which continues our resurgence and puts significant distance between us and the relegation zone.

It looked ominous from the start. Any hopes that Real would do a bit of rotation, with tough games against Villarreal and Napoli in the coming week, were soon disappointed. Zidane named the strongest possible team. Voro, though, went about it as business as usual. Naming a largely unchanged side, with Cancelo replacing the injured Montoya and the fit again Gaya slotting in for Siquiera.

After a bit of early possession for Madrid, Valencia basically sealed the game in the first 8 minutes, and they were lovely goals too, both the type of counter-attacking ones that we used to specialise in. Cancelo sent Munir away and a perfect cross found Zaza. It looked like there was no danger, but he swivelled and scored a real "golazo", beating the helpless Navas. Four minutes later, we were away again. With Valencia breaking, Zaza put a decent pass to Nani in space. Zaza made a great run to draw the defender away and create space for the advancing Munir and Orellana and it was the latter who made no mistake.

Madrid were stunned and it was almost 3-0 in the 13th minute, with a shot from Munir blocked. Madrid began to come back into, and Alves was forced into a couple of saves, including a great one from Benzema. With backs to the wall and Madrid mostly controlling the game, Zaza was getting limited service and got booked after a bit of over-agressiveness, his only blot in a decent game.

For all their possession, Madrid were struggling to break down a really well-organised Valencia defence, who were repelling everything RM threw at them. Valencia had another break in the 40th minute, with Nani cutting down the wing well and playing it back for Parejo, who fired over. This move proved costly, however, as Nani went off injured. His 6 assists in La Liga this season have only been bettered by Kroos, Luis Suarez, Piatti and Neymar.

Just as it looked that we were going in at halftime with a comfortable lead, Madrid halved the deficit. Cancelo should have done more to cut out the cross and Mangala, who had been winning most of the aerial duels up to then, lost his man. Unfortunately, this was one of the best headers in world football, CR7, who planted an unstoppable header past Alves.

The second half was an uncomfortable one to be a Valencia fan, as Madrid bombarded the Valencia defence. VCF in contrast, only had a couple of half chances for Parejo and Zaza, but, with most of the Valencia team forceably camped in their own half, lack of options meant the chances came to nothing.

No game against Madrid would be complete without dicey and questionable refereeing. In fairness, Penaldo should have had a penalty when Mangala brought him down, but any injustice towards Madrid was more than outdone at the other end. First, Zaza was barged off the ball by Carvajal, which the ref deemed a shoulder challenge but gets given as a penalty half the time. The second was absolutely blatant, with Munir brought down by Ramos inside the area. It was also a mystery how Bale managed to escape at least a yellow, hacking down Cancelo in a petty revenge move. Madrid also showed their lack of class, playing on even when Valencia had Zaza and later Parejo down injured. That was the only negative for Valencia this game, with Nani and Zaza going off with injury concerns. Orellana was also substituted, though it's unclear if that was for tactical reasons or because he'd picked up a knock.

Madrid had an insane 72% of possession and were pinging the ball from wing to wing desperately trying to find a way through, but were mostly stifled by a resilient VCF defence. The closest RM came was a Bale header and a scramble inside the box, with Bale and Ramos trying and failing to poke the equaliser in. Navas even came up for a corner at the end, but Valencia managed to avoid their conceding-late-goals hoodoo and held on for a vital and morale boosting win.

It's hard to believe that 2 months ago, it was all doom and gloom, with Prandelli's rant about suffering for the shirt and the team only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. In 2017, only the top four have got more points than us and we have wins over Bilbao, Madrid and Villarreal under our belts. European qualification looks a jump too far, but there's no way we shouldn't go on to push for top ten. Now to player ratings, and you'll forgive me if these are a bit "samey" but it's hard to differentiate these guys after such a great showing.

Alves 9 - made some crucial saves. I criticised his distribution before but he was involved in starting off the first goal.
Gaya 8 - mostly handled the Real Madrid attacks.
Garay 8.5 - solid and reliable defensive performance, stopped almost everything that came his way.
Mangala 8 - at fault for the goal, but a great aerial presence and also blocked a near certain goal.
Cancelo 7 - involved in the first goal, but weakest one of the defence and should have closed down better for the goal. Overall, not a bad performance, though.
Enzo 8.5 - really great stuff. As ever, marred by a bit of aggression, but contained the Madrid attacks well.
Parejo 8 - solid performance, containing Madrid attacks, which were forced out on to the channels. Also nearly scored from one of his trademark free kicks.
Nani 7.5 - excellent pass to set up the goal. Hope the injury is nothing serious.
Orellana 9 - just like Cheryshev last season, has made a big difference to the team. Luckily, he'll be around a bit longer.
Munir 8.5 - having a good run of games and a super cross for the first goal.
Zaza 8.5 - super first half, brilliant goal and excellent run to create the space for the second. A quieter second half, due to VCF being pinned back. If he plays the next three games like this, we're in for a tricky decision.

Siquiera 7 - was under pressure, but mostly did his job.
Soler 7 - decent job in stopping Madrid attacks through the centre.
Mario N/A - job done. Nothing to complain about.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Valencia 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

Round 23 of the season saw Valencia host their nemesis Athletic Bilbao, a team that have caused Valencia numerous problems in recent seasons. We hadn't beaten them in the league since 2012, the infamous metre-offside goal in 2015 cost us third place and they knocked us out of the Europa league last season. However, this time Bilbao were sandwiched between Europa league games, while Valencia had had a full week's rest. If ever there was a time to end the jinx, this was it.

Bilbao had the better of the possession in the early period, though without doing a great deal with it. Valencia's first chance came in the fourth minute, with Zaza shooting wide. Bilbao's best chance came in the 11th minute, forcing a save from Alves. A minute later we were ahead after a great team effort. Enzo robbed the Bilbao defender and, before they could react, Zaza had slotted the ball to Orellana, who put a brilliant ball into the path of Nani, who made no mistake.

For most of the game after that, Valencia would be in control and for once, luck was on our side. An injury to a Bilbao player in the 29th minute meant they had to use up one of their subs, something that would prove critical later. Valencia's defence was solid, with the weaker links being Parejo and Alves. The former gave away two chances, committing a needless foul on the edge of the area and, later, trying to dribble the ball out and giving away possession in a dangerous position which resulted in a shooting chance for Bilbao. As for Alves, he seemed to be trying to be Rene Higuita/Manuel Neuer and one of these occasions resulted in a misplaced pass which Bilbao scored from. Luckily, it was offside, but it would be good to see less risks like this.

It looked like Valencia would be taking a deserved 1-0 lead into the break, only for the team to double it. Garay played the ball forward and nice passing triangle between Orellana, Parejo and Munir put Zaza through and he finished well, to end a 23-game streak without a goal. The big man had clearly been feeling the stress, as he shed a tear. He - and we - needed that goal.

Valencia were dominant in the second half. Valverde sent Iñaki Williams and Aduritz on. The latter has been a real thorn in our side in recent years, scoring in all of the previous five league games, as well as the goal which knocked us out of Europe. This time, though, our luck was in. Aduritz hopped off injured after barely 2 minutes on the pitch, leaving Bilbao with only 10 men for the last half hour. If there's any negative, it's that Valencia seem to take their foot off the gas in such situations, rather than crushing the opponent, much as Eibar did to us. Maybe it's understandable with 3 games in a 7-day period, starting with Real Madrid, from Wednesday. But a 4-0 win would do wonders for confidence. Such nitpicking aside, this is a crucial three points and a good performance. We are now 7 points clear of the relegation zone, with two teams between us and the drop.

The team clearly isn't there yet, as the Las Palmas defeat and home thrashings by Celta and Eibar showed, but the overall feeling is that we're going in the right direction and, under Voro playing more as a unit and with more effort than we did under Prandelli. A record of 3 wins, 2 draw and 2 defeats this year is a significant improvement on late 2016. Also of note: this is the first time since September 2015 we've kept consecutive clean sheets in the league.


Alves 7 - I criticised his Neuer antics and his distribution could also improve, but he made the stops he needed to.
Montoya 6.5 - quiet game, but no mistakes.
Garay 7 - good game, functioned well as part of a solid defence.
Mangala 7.5 - very good game. Cut out a number of shots and dangerous attacks.
Siquiera 6.5 - I'd have chosen Lato, but Siquiera had a decent enough game.
Enzo 7.5 - great game doing the box-to-box role we bought him for. Unless we can get a good alternative, we should keep him in the summer.
Parejo 5 - some good contributions in attack, but should not be anywhere near our box. Double pivot isn't for him.
Orellana 8.5 - man of the match for me. Great passing and effort. Looks a steal at 3 million.
Nani 7 - good game, but needs to be less selfish.
Zaza 7 - great to see him score and he put in a good effort harrying defenders. The problem is he seemed over eager and he needs to tone down the aggression and limit the sliding tackles. He only needs to mistime one of those for a card happy official to show him red. Lucky not to get booked in this game.
Munir 6.5 - good contribution in attack, but at times dallies too long on the ball.

Soler 6 - good to see him back and he'll now face competition in the midfield.
Cancelo 5.5 - he's been off-form of late and didn't look like an improvement on Montoya.
Bakkali N/A - would be good to see him get more than 7/8 minutes at the end.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valencia 0-4 Eibar

I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted with these players, who despite being highly-paid professionals, rarely show the commitment we expect and play as if they're in a training match with their friends. I'm disgusted with the management of this club and its woeful transfer policy, which failed to take the opportunities to get us the defensive midfielder that we need in the January transfer window. I'm disgusted with the owner, who has been totally invisible as things have gone downhill. I'm extremely disgusted with La Liga referees and their sheer incompetence which has cost us numerous points.

Tonight we saw yet again what we saw in the Copa versus Celta. It only takes the absence of a couple of players and Valencia fall apart. The squad is woefully lacking in depth.

Regarding the match itself, the first 30 minutes were dire from Valencia. The team constantly seems to struggle against teams which employ a high press and were constantly pinned back, struggling to put any passing movements together. Often the ball would head back to Alves who would launch it forward ineffectively as we have few players who provide an aerial presence. So, usually the ball would come straight back. The defence also seem to lack confidence on the ball and so it's incredibly rare that we can initiate any type of decent counter-attack.

It was no surprise when Eibar were ahead in the 27th minute. Eibar were seemingly able to pass about in the midfield at will and hit a long diagonal cross field ball to the right wing with our midfielders standing around like headless chickens and from the resultant cross, the defence weren't much better, Montoya letting his man get in front of him. Alves should've done better too.

Up front, Valencia were lacklustre, with the 3 forwards operating almost as independent units. There was no understanding at all between Mina and Zaza and they got in each other's way more than anything. Cancelo didn't seem sure whether he was supposed to be a forward or a defender and did neither. Charging back like a bull to commit a couple of fouls giving away free kicks in dangerous areas. Meanwhile Alves was getting heckled by some sections of our fans and unwisely chose to respond.

Just before half time came a key moment. I wouldn't say turning point because we'd been so poor up until then, but it was a moment that certainly confirmed our defeat. With Valencia defending a corner the players jostled each other as always happens in these situations. An Eibar player put a hand on Soler's face, Soler reacted by pushing him away. Normally, the referee would halt the corner and head in to tell both players to cool it. In this case it's Valencia, who referees seem to have a vendetta against. This ref responded with a straight red card and a penalty. 0-2. Game over. Sure, Valencia had looked dismal up to then, but there's a massive difference between being a goal down at home and being 2 goals down with 10 men. I'm sick of these refs, when is La Liga going to employ refs that can do the job?

There was a slight and relative improvement in the second half, but with ten men and playing to a rapidly emptying stadium full of whistles, another couple of goals sunk us. The third was a wonder goal and the fourth was down to poor defending, Garay and Mangala failing to cut out with Montoya again letting his man in front. Bakkali and Orellana came on and improved things for us, but the end of the game, like the end of this season, couldn't come quickly enough. It's hard to believe that the Villarreal game was 2 weeks ago.

I will be on holiday next weekend, so can someone else cover the Betis game write-up, please?

I'm not going to give the players a rating this time, most of them were equally awful and I'd rather finish this horror story now.


Alves - Made some good stops, but seems to be in decline and arguing with the crowd is never a wise move.
Montoya - Made a couple of decent interceptions on the right but partly at fault on at least two of the goals.
Mangala - at fault with the rest of the defence and often unsure what to do with the ball when he had possession
Garay - lacklustre and failed to offer leadership at the back
Gaya - wasn't too bad in a forward role but struggled in defence
Suarez - was able to halt some dangerous moves, but really poor passing
Soler - had been anonymous, but didn't deserve a yellow, let alone a red
Medran - he made an effort but it was not enough. Makes Parejo look world class.
Mina - far better in a central role, limited impact on the left
Zaza - first start and put in a good effort, but all too often his decision-making was poor, passing when he should've shot and vice versa
Cancelo - rubbish. Clumsy tackles, poor passing and at least twice when he had the ball he decided to try and be Maradona and dribble up, losing the ball in dangerous positions. That 30m that was talked about for him suddenly seems like an act of charity.

Bakkali - looked threatening, remains a mystery why he never gets his chance and seems doomed to leave.
Orellana - shame this was his debut, good performance, looking forward to seeing more of him.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Las Palmas 3-1 Valencia post-match thread

As my stream cut out at half time, I have to apologise for this one being short.

Anyway, Valencia were brought back down to earth after a few improved results by a Las Palmas side that outplayed them, especially in the centre of the pitch. Valencia did well to stay level for the early period and even took an early lead against the run of play with a great team goal. Enzo intercepted in the middle and put the ball out to space on the left. Gaya put the ball across the box for Mina, in a rare outing as main striker, to poke home. Las Palmas were level before half time. Garay cut out a dangerous pass and with the players sprinting back and looking a little disorganised, Viera was able to curl in.

Things went from bad to worse in the second half. Enzo went off injured at half time and was replaced by Suarez. Munir was sent off for a reckless challenge while already on a yellow card. Las Palmas went ahead from a free kick that Parejo would have been proud of and then put the game beyond doubt after an awful error from Mangala.

As usual it's one step forward, one step back. To me, Las Palmas looked much sharper for the parts I saw, they controlled the midfield and Valencia were rarely able to get any decent moves going. Worse, Munir, Parejo and Nani are all suspended for the next game against Eibar, while Enzo is an injury doubt.

It looks like Fede is gone with Orellana coming in, but the midfield still looks like our main weakness. What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Villarreal 0-2 Valencia

Voro vete ya!

Take my advice Mr Salvador "Voro" González and leave now before grateful Valencia fans chain you to the Mestalla to stop you leaving. Valencia's super-sub coach has done it again, galvanising the team and showing that last week's performance against Espanyol wasn't a one-off.

What helped was that, with the exception of Rodrigo, Valencia had almost all their players available. Selectionwise, Voro opted for a fairly familiar line-up. Cancelo was selected rather than Montoya at the back,as the latter has some small injury concerns. Garay and Mangala were able to play together for the first time since November. Soler is clearly now a first team regular, displacing Mario Suarez. The main selection question was whether Zaza would start. Voro opted not to. Zaza hasn't played a competitive game in a while, so I guess the idea is to ease him back.

Valencia began in committed fashion, pressuring and winning an early free kick from which Parejo forced a save. It was a hard fought early first half after that with both teams creating half chances, with Mina and Munir both missing for Valencia and Pato shooting just over for Villarreal. After the first 30 minutes the score was still level, with Villarreal just edging the play, but then the tide turned. Nani beat his man on the wing, sped on and with the next defender backing off, put a decent ball across for Soler to slot home. Villarreal looked rattled and Valencia had found a decent rhythm. Confident, keeping possession, no mistakes, solid marking and lots of quick touch passing. We knew this team had this in them. Where has it been all season?

It didn't end there. From a ball from Soler, Mina won a header, pressured the defender into a backpass and then showed great commitment to chase the keeper down and score after an awful mistake from the keeper. Valencia had a two-goal lead at half time for the first time this season.

The second half would mostly see Villarreal butting their head fruitlessly against a solid wall of Valencia players. All the back four were doing well, with Mangala in particular a rock in the air. I'm so used to writing negative things in these match reports, that it's a hard habit to break, but there was little negative here to write. It would be good to see Valencia not sitting back so much if they're ahead, but if they don't concede, who cares? Also, I didn't really get the Zaza substitution. We only have 9 games in which to assess him before we have to buy him. Wouldn't it be better to give him at least 70 minutes in order to properly judge him?

All in all, though, it feels really wrong to say anything negative after such a decent performance. 2-0 away against one of the top six, local derby bragging rights and the first clean sheet this season. It might be too early to draw conclusions, but there does seem to be an uptick. Since November, in La Liga, we've won two, drawn two and lost one, but in both the draws and defeat, we conceded the decisive goal in injury time. Bring on Las Palmas!


Alves 7.5 - was mostly screened by a solid defence, but made the saves when he had to
Cancelo 7 - for once, better at the back than as a winger
Garay 7 - very solid, made great interceptions and was faultless in his marking
Mangala 8.5 - one of the big man's best performances, strong in the air and on the ground
Gaya 6.5 - was limited to a defensive role, but managed to close the space well
Enzo 7 - great job covering the defence, would get a higher score if he toned down his aggression, playing like this he'd get a red card with some refs
Parejo 6 - quiet game, but worked well with the team and no mistakes
Soler 7.5 - excellent first goal and another confident performance
Mina 7.5 - good to see him back to form, I may yet win my moneyless bet against Kerry Caitlin!
Munir 7 - good running up front, created a few chances and helped out well with covering the defence
Nani 8 - super game, especially in the first half, is in the top ten in La Liga for number of assists

Subs (all unrated due to lack of time)

Suarez - nothing to complain about, but his time at Valencia is surely limited now, with Soler's emergence
Zaza - think we should have brought Bakkali on instead. Zaza looks a strong, physical player. Best of luck to him.
Montoya - hope he's back soon, has been playing well of late.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How Will Zaza Do at Valencia?

Valencia recently acquired the services of one Simone Zaza. The former Juventus and West Ham player comes to us on a loan deal that cost us about 2 million, per Marca, and will cost us another 16 million if he plays 10 or more games for us. The Italian international striker has had difficulty logging minutes at West Ham because of a similar clause in his contract that West Ham didn’t want to activate it.

However, whether or not we keep and use him will depend on how well he plays for us and how well he fits into our system.

In his best years as a player, from Sassuolo from 2014 to Juventus in 2016, he excelled as a human battering ram. Tall, strong, fast, he excelled in harrying defenders and making runs in behind them, proving himself to be an unsettling man on the field. These qualities made him a super sub at Juventus, where he would be brought out late in the game to torture tired opponents.
Seeing as Rodrigo was doing a very similar thing here at Valencia, chasing down balls and making runs, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Zaza to start leading the lines here. Our system asks for a striker with his MO.

His biggest weaknesses as a first division striker are his technical ability and finishing.

He doesn’t excel when opposing defenses don’t give him space to run in, and has difficulty dropping into the midfield, picking up the ball, and getting it out. Therefore, he likely won’t be very useful playing in a pair of strikers. The usual 4-2-3-1 formation will probably suit him best because he’ll be accompanied by the creative Dani Parejo, who’ll hopefully be able to slip him the occasional through ball for him to run on to.

His finishing also isn’t top notch. It’s good, and on Youtube you can find him scoring a few golazos, but a major criticism throughout his career has been his inconsistency in front of the goal. However, to be perfectly honest, Rodrigo and Santi Mina, for all their hard work, have unfortunately set a rather low standard in that department, so for all we know Simone could actually be an upgrade.

All in all, it seems that we bought a stronger, taller Rodrigo who wouldn’t be as comfortable on the wing. That said, given the shortage of good strikers on the market, if he works out, at 25 years old, he’d represent a fairly good deal for Valencia.

Will Simone do well at Valencia? Tell us what you think, and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Valencia sign Zaza

In case you haven't heard, Valencia have confirmed the on-loan signing of Simone Zaza, who joins us after an unsuccessful spell at West Ham in which he failed to score in 11 games.

The loan is costing Valencia €2m, while in summer the club will have to pay another €16m plus a possible €2m in bonuses if he plays more than 10 games and Valencia don't get relegated.

This transfer was mooted under Prandelli, but, with the Italian resigning, there seemed to be doubts about it going ahead. Zaza did well in his early years on loan at lower division clubs Viareggio and Ascoli scoring 29 goals in 54 games, but in the 3 and a half seasons since then the stats have gone south, with the player averaging less than a goal every three games before his move to England, less than Rodrigo has averaged this season, as it happens. A combined total of €20m seems a lot for a player who is not a guaranteed goal scorer.

On the plus side, he does bring attributes that the team have lacked up front this season: strong in the air and a physical player, capable of holding the ball up, qualities similar to the departed Negredo. Also, at least in contrast to the latter, Valencia have a try-before-you-buy deal. If he does well, the team can splash the cash. If he doesn't produce the goods, we've at least secured cover for Rodrigo and then can cut our losses by simply benching Zaza in mid-March, close to when Rodrigo is due to return from his injury.

What do you think?

In other news, Vinicius looks set to go on loan at a Segunda side, while the postponed Valencia - Real Madrid game has been confirmed for Wednesday 22 February at 21:00 Central European Time.