Monday, October 16, 2017

Real Betis 3 Valencia CF 6

Forgive me if I don't go deeply into tactical formations I will leave that to others more qualified. To me football is about entertainment, passion, tension, highs, lows, goals, near misses, controversy and much more.
Last night we had everything all in 93 minutes. On paper it was always going to be a difficult test for us with Betis at home with a very partisan crowd of 48,000 supporters and doing very well in the league just behind us.
Strange to see Barragan and Guadardo lined up against us and both would have a say in how the game played out in different ways.



Kondogbia gets the ball rolling powering in a great header from a Parejo corner leaving the defenders and keeper no chance. Wow a goal for Valencia from a corner.
A minute before the break Gaya puts over a lovely cross to the back post and Soler was unlucky with a powerful volley which the keeper saved well. however the ball found its way to Guedes well out side the area who made himself some space to fire in the top corner for the goal of the weekend.  We were very unlucky to have a penalty claim turned down when Soler was fouled in the box but we are used to that by now.  Half time 0_2 and we are coasting it.

In the second half the inevitable happens, a cross from the right bounces up off the grass or possibly Zaza and glances the arm of Kondogbia.  We all know what is going to happen and of course the ref pleases the home crowd by giving them a penalty. There is a god after all and Neto makes a great or fortunate save with his feet and we are still 2 goals in front.





On 63 mins yet another corner by Parejo is easily nodded in by that man Rodrigo to make it his 6th goal in 6 consecutive games and make the score an unbelievable 0-3. Can it get any better.

On 73 mins a long ball down the line from Gaya, who was perhaps a little lucky not to have been pulled up for the use of his hand, found Santi Mina, who had replace Rodrigo. Mina always looks a bit uncomfortable running at goal but he managed to get in a shot which fortunately spun up off a defender before dropping into the net. 0-4 home and dry, what could possibly go wrong now ?

Murillo was replaced by Paulista, Soler by Andreas and Rodrigo by Mina.  This is when things started to go a bit wrong. On 78 mins a suicidal pass from Paulista to Parejo resulted in Parejo making a ridiculous short pass back, the ball was easily intercepted and its 1-4. No problem, still 3 goals in front. Many Betis supporters will have missed this as they were heading for the exits and there were many empty seats by now.  If there is one thing that I have learned from watching football, its not over till its over.



A minute later Vidal was slow coming out to play Sanabria onside and he calmly slides the ball past Neto and suddenly our arses are twitching.  At this stage anything looked possible as Valencia were all over the place and lost all the concentration. OK ref we will settle for that 2-4, blow the whistle and we can all go home.

No that isn't going to happen, Joel Cambell makes a good run down the right beating Paulista and puts over a cross for Tello to punish Valencia and all the Betis fans leaving to visit local bars. 3-4

They think it's all over but it's not.  Kondogbia wins a good ball and plays it forward. The ball reaches Zaza and he makes no mistake to finally kill off Betis, although seems to have injured himself in the process.

If the game ended now I think we would have no complaints as we have all had our monies worth of drama and excitement. However, Guedes makes a great tackle in his own area and charges the length of the pitch. He passes to Pereira on the left who at first seemed to have missed his chance. He manages to balance himself before firing an unstoppable shot into the top corner to finish an amazing game. Has to be one of the best games I have seen for a long time if for ever.

Player Ratings

Neto 6  Not much chance with the goals after being so exposed but made some fine saves including the penalty.

Vidal 5.5 Made some good tackles but was caught out a few times. Good experience for him with such a pressure game.

Murillo  7.5   Had a great game, he is such a good player and saved us a few times.

Garay 6  Had a decent game, very calm.

Gaya 7  Involved in some of the best moves going forward and solid in defence

Soler 6.5  Unlucky not to score and unlucky not to have the penalty awarded

Parejo 6.5  Gave away a goal but was involved in good forward play and worked hard. S typical Parejo performance.

Guedes 8   For me the man of the match, super goal and super run at the end even though his legs looked tired. Involved in all the good spells.

Kondogbia 7  Good strong performance and great goal. Unlucky with the penalty. Does what he is paid to do and does it well.

Rodrigo 7  I tipped at the start of the season that this would be his year and he is proving it with his 6th goal in as many games.

Zaza 6.5  Worked hard as usual but obviously not fully funcioning with his recent injury, great goal at the end.

Subs:
Pereira  Great goal but he lacks that extra when it comes to defending. A number of times when we needed him to win tackles he was found wanting. Maybe not the right player to bring on at that time.
Although one of the two subs to score and make the game safe

Paulista  Not on for long but struggled to get to pace with the game and at fault for some of the nervy moments in the final spell. Why he passed to Parejo to give away the goal only he will know that.

Mina.  A little fortunate with the goal but always runs his legs off for the team. His goal helped to make the game safe.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Real Betis vs Valencia CF Match Preview

Valencia CF have been performing admirably this season, we've seen a fighting spirit and drive in the players like we've not seen in quite a long time and this is key to success for any team. The crucial thing was for Peter Lim to learn that he can not run the club the way he imagines, that it needs a stable professional football hand and a team who is Spanish, is from the football culture and cares about the club.

Giving away his personal power over to other people, changing the leadership at the club and giving almost full rain and trusting the new leadership and management. This has paid off immensely and we saw good moves on the market in terms of players coming in, we managed to secure a great experienced manager and boy what a difference does it make.

All is not great though as the team still has issues to sort out, some of the players here are only on loan and players like Kondogbia we need to definitely secure as our own, otherwise all the success will be for nothing because there won't be consistency and stability. We need the same core of successful players to stay put together in order to achieve long term success.

Our results have so far been great and Valencia CF will be looking to continue this trend against Real Betis who have shown themselves to be tricky opponents this season. Valencia CF has also had issues dealing with weaker teams in the past several or more years, so this season winning against weaker teams must be maintained. The trials are just now starting, as Valencia CF has mostly faced tough opponents so far, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao,Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, etc... We'll see if we can manage to consistently beat weaker opponents and not succumb to decadence, arrogance or bravado now that we've had a very good start to the season.

Valencia CF coach Marcelino is bringing in pretty much the same squad he has used throughout the season against Betis, with the biggest change being Kondogbia returning, while Maksimovic falling out of the squad. Fabian Orellana as always is not on the list, so a loan option is certainly in the cards for him in the winter transfer window. I was hoping Marcelino would give him at least one chance, but that is not the case and the last hope is Copa del Rey for him if he is to get any play time, or at least be included in the squad.

I'm not going to be losing sleep over that though as the team is performing well and we haven't needed Orellana, but he did deserve at least some play time based on his preseason performance in my mind. I'm not the trainer and I'm not seeing all the players performance on training, but from what I've seen I do think that Orellana deserved a chance.

Valencia CF squad:
GK: Neto, Jaume
DF: Montoya, Vidal, Garay, Gabriel, Murillo, Gaya, Lato
MF: Nacho Gil, Soler, Kondogbia, Parejo, Pereira, Guedes
FW: Zaza, Moreno, Santi Mina

Monday, October 2, 2017

Valencia 3-2 Athletic Bilbao

Another win over a direct rival, with 3 goals scored, including one each for Valencia's increasingly prolific front two and a result which takes us into third place.


What's not to like? Well, if we're being critical, the second half performance. In fact, the overall performance is a contender for Valencia's worst of the season, which is not to say we played badly, just that the strong start has set a high standard for the team to aim for.

Neto and Montoya returned to the starting line-up and the main question of Kondogbia's replacement was answered. Pereira started rather than Maksimovic and Soler returned to central midfield.

The first 25 minutes were fairly even, with chances for both sides and a few individual errors. Gabriel mucked up a pass in the sixth minute and Neto had to produce a good save. Valencia's best chance came in the 25th minute. Montoya setting up Guedes inside the area and the latter turned well to give himself shooting space but the shot deflected over the bar. Valencia were ahead a minute later after quality play from our midfield. First, Soler tracked back to stop a dangerous counter attack led by Williams and, after winning the ball, found Pereira, who jinked inside creating space for Gaya. His centre found, who else, Zaza who had positioned himself well and slammed home in a manner very similar to his goal against Sociedad.

Zaza would also be involved in Valencia's next attacks which were pure route one football, with balls up field from Neto. The first was headed on by Zaza, finding a great run from Rodrigo, but, from an angle, he was only able to fire straight at the keeper. Shortly after that, there was a carbon copy, Neto to Zaza, who headed on to Rodrigo, who was using his pace to take it round the keeper. The keeper flapped at it, ending up slapping Rodrigo on the head (!) Penalty, converted with ease by Parejo for his first goal of the season.

As I've noted before, Valencia look especially vulnerable after scoring and particularly from set pieces. From a corner, Neto had to produce a superb reaction save to stop Bilbao pulling a goal back. At half time, with a 2-goal lead, Valencia looked to be cruising, however the dynamic changed in the second half.

Bilbao had been forced to rotate due to being in European action on Thursday. Inaki Williams, though a quality player, was struggling a bit as lone striker, so Aduriz and Raul Garcia came on as subs at half time and Bilbao looked much more threatening as a result. After sustained pressure from them, they pulled a goal back in the 58th minute. In fairness it wasn't so much poor defence from Valencia as a moment of brilliance from (who else?) Aduriz, who had a great first touch and turn to evade Gaya and fire across Neto. What is it with that guy? When he played for us, he produced a fairly unimpressive average of 11 goals a season. Against us, he's scored in 7 of the last 8 games!

Valencia really looked on the ropes at this point and the three points started to look unlikely, but we sealed it with a sucker punch from a counter attack. Montoya's floated cross found the onrunning Rodrigo and, with the keeper hesitating, Rodrigo was able to power home a header from the edge of the area. Valencia nearly had a fourth shortly after, with another counter attack putting in Guedes, whose shot was blocked on the line.

To their credit, Bilbao refused to give up and from a free kick, Raul Garcia was able to take advantage of poor marking by us to place a free header past Neto to set up a nervy last 15 minutes. Shaky defending by us, nearly let Raul Garcia equalise in the 80th minute, with another good save by Neto denying them, while Laporta hit the bar with a header a couple of minutes after that, but Valencia managed to hold on.

As with the Sociedad game, not our best performance, but compared to last year, when we would inevitably lose games like this, it's nice to see us holding on against a sustained fight back. We do look vulnerable after scoring, have difficulty dealing with a high press and defending from set pieces, while not as bad as last season, is still an area where we can improve. Overall though, we go into the international break with morale sky high, unbeaten despite a very tricky set of opening fixtures. Compared to this time last year, when we had lost 5 of the opening seven games, that's great progress. If you missed the game, the first half is here and the second here.

PLAYER RATINGS
Neto 7 - a definite upgrade in the goalkeeping front, made at least three great saves to prevent a goal, but seems to have a weakness in the air
Gaya 6.5 - having a good season, was good in defence, especially in the first half and got forward well, struggled more in the second part
Gabriel 5 - off-colour in this game. While his passing overall was satisfactory, he misplaced a couple in dangerous positions and as a defender, just doesn't have that luxury
Garay 6 - satisfactory for most of the game and was the best of our defence in the air, but as with the rest of the defence struggled in the second period
Montoya 6.5 - made some good interceptions in the first period and, for the second game in a row, provided an important assist
Pereira 6 - good and bad, an attacking threat for most of it, decent assist for the first goal but had greedy tendencies and was trying too hard to prove himself
Parejo 6.5 - decent game and good to see him get his first goal, even if from a penalty
Soler 5.5 - seems to alternate between being Superman and the invisible man. Was more of the latter in this game but did play a key role in the first goal
Guedes 6 - got into good positions to score twice but it just didn't happen, put in a good shift overall even if he didn't reach the high of the game before this
Rodrigo 7.5 - was wasted for his first two seasons on the wing. Did a bit better last year as lone front man but is really coming into his own this season as a secondary striker where his running is a lot more purposeful due to his workload being halved. Goals in four consecutive games makes him only the 11th player in Valencia's history to achieve that. Starting to link up well with Zaza too.
Zaza 7.5 - in a real purple patch. Goal and assist in this game, good hold up play, link ups with other players and even gets back the odd time to help out in defence. Far too early (like 2 seasons too early) to speak of him in the same breath as Villa, as some are doing, but he's on the right lines.

SUBS
Maksimovic, Lato and Mina all came on for late cameos but didn't see much of the ball due to pressure at that time from Bilbao, though Maksimovic did make an excellent block soon after coming on.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Copa Del Rey draw and other news

Valencia's opponents in the last 32 of the Copa Del Rey were drawn today. Our possible opponents were the La Liga sides not playing in European competitions and the five remaining Segunda Division sides, 4 of them in promotion or play-off positions with the exception Zaragoza, who are 18th and just outside the relegation positions. We got Zaragoza and therefore have potentially the easiest draw possible. Both clubs have history, Zaragoza bought Aimar and Ayala from us in 2006 but are in one of their worst periods historically. When the club got relegated from the top flight in 2013, they'd spent 53 of the previous 57 seasons in the top division but have yet to return and are now even flirting with dropping to the third level. I visited the Zaragoza stadium just last month, it's big enough, holding nearly 35,000


and the club has consistently had the best attendances in the division, averaging 15000-16000 so the atmosphere should be good but over 2 legs we should have no trouble. The first leg should be played around 25 October in La Romareda and the second at Mestalla around 29 November. 

Jose Alesanco was sacked as Valencia's sporting director last week. Alesanco had been appointed by outgoing President Lay Hoon back in February but like his predecessor, Garcia Pitarch, didn't really seem to do a lot. In recent times President Alemany and Marcelino have been the driving forces behind any transfers, so Alesanco was increasingly looking like the third wheel on the bicycle. Alemany said yesterday that no replacement sporting director will be appointed and that he and Marcelino will assume responsibility for transfers. He also said that there will be money available for transfers in January.

On to bad news. Javi Jimenez suffered a serious injury last week and will be out for 6 to 8 months. Jimenez got off to a bad start with the first team, suffering a poor performance in the Copa games in January against Celta, but has grown since then and had a good pre-season. With Marcelino keen on giving young players games, he'd probably have featured for the first team sooner rather than later. The knock-on effect of this is that Valencia's plan to sell Vezo in January must now be put on hold. Vezo is expected back from his injury about 5 weeks from now and should therefore have the rest of the season to prove his worth.

UEFA confirmed this week that the top four from Spain will now gain direct entry to the Champions league. Previously, the fourth team had to go through a potentially tricky final qualifying round tie, as Valencia had to do when we last qualified as the fourth team in 2015. Now, fourth will guarantee us a place in the group stage.

In UEFA competitions tonight, Bilbao, who we will play at the weekend, put out most of their first team and suffered a surprise home defeat against Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk. That means that, after a good start to the season, Bilbao have now gone five games without a win, obviously good news for us.

Less good news from the UEFA side, though, is that us and Villarreal are under UEFA investigation due to suspicions of breaking their rules on signing underage players. Hopefully we'll be cleared as the punishments are no joke, a potential fine and/or ban on signing new players as has already happened to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Precarious but Promising: Valencia’s Midfield

When Marcelino Garcia Toral was hired, many who had followed the Spanish manager’s career knew what to expect. At every team he’s coached, he’s been a big fan of a simple 4-4-2.

He’s been very successful with the 4-4-2, getting Villarreal a 4th place finish in his last year as coach there, so no reason existed for him to not roll out his tried and test formation. The question was how was he going to bend Valencia’s squad into that shape.

Dani Parejo was a natural in the central double pivot, and his companion would be whichever destroyer Valencia were able to get their hands on. They were quite fortunate to get a player of the caliber of Kondogbia, a player who was a midfield force in Monaco before sinking to obscurity on Inter’s bench. A physical powerhouse, he has brought tackles and interceptions to Valencia’s midfield, as well as a silky touch and a surprising range of passing. The two players have established a strong partnership, but a problem looms in the distance.

Marcelino’s Villarreal would commonly trip and fall in the months of February and March, because the 4-4-2 is only as good as it’s double pivot. This would be a problem at Villarreal because they only had two players for their double pivot: Bruno Soriano and Manu Trigueros. They would grow tired as the season wore on, and so their performances would inevitably drop.

At Valencia, the double pivot does and doesn’t have more depth. Due to Kondogbia’s red card against Real Sociedad, he will miss Valencia’s next match against Athletic Bilbao. This will give us insight as to how Marcelino will rotate the midfield. The obvious solution is to put Soler in the double pivot alongside Dani Parejo and play Pereira and Guedes on the wings. This is a fine temporary solution, but the problem with this is that it means that there is less rest for Soler, who is giving exhausting performances every game on the wing.

Should Soler be the primary replacement for the center, Marcelino will need to rotate carefully and unprompted by injury to ensure all 3 players, Parejo, Kondogbia, and Soler, stay fresh. This will then require careful management of Guedes and Pereira, as they are asked to cover Soler on the wing. They will need rest too, and that will require for Marcelino and Orellana to figure out their personal differences to add more depth to the wings. Nacho Gil will also probably be required to rest the wingers as well. Hopefully Gil will be able to take advantage of the opportunities.

Another piece in properly rotating the midfield will be Maksimovic and how he performs when he plays. He has already had some promising cameos, and if he can establish himself as a reliable player, then he will be useful when resting either player in the double pivot. Should he end up not being good enough, he will make the rest of the puzzle much higher.


All in all, Valencia is in a good place, with a strong starting midfield and a decent bench. However, it will take careful management on Marcelino’s part to make sure that the team continues to perform at the high level it has been displaying.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Real Sociedad 2-3 Valencia

Valencia's tough set of early fixtures continued with an away game against Sociedad, a team that have been a thorn in our side in recent seasons, winning the last four games against us.

Both teams came into the game with contrasting fortunes. R.Sociedad had started strongly with 3 wins but were then brought back down to earth with a home defeat by Real Madrid and a 0-3 defeat at Levante. Valencia meanwhile were coming in on a high. While R.Sociedad had home advantage, Valencia had had 2 days extra rest. While our victory against Malaga was greeted with cheers, the reaction of some of our fans was that it was all well and good to win against a weak team like them, but could we do it against Sociedad? The answer was, yes we could, as the team managed a crucial victory against a direct rival.



Marcelino made 5 changes. 3 of them were just reversing the midweek rotations: Garay back instead of Murillo (who had picked up a knock in training anyway), Gaya replacing Lato and Rodrigo back instead of Mina. Montoya got rested with Nacho Vidal getting his first start since the opening day and Jaume making his first start of the season.

Both teams had conflicting styles, lots of possession for R.Sociedad as they tried to find a way through and Valencia staying solid, with two lines of four limiting the opposition, with quick passing and counter attacks. While Sociedad struggled to find a way through, Valencia had 2 chances in the early period. In the first, Rodrigo tried to shoot from distance when a pass to Parejo in space would have been the better option. Zaza later did the opposite, overhitting his pass to Rodrigo across the goal when he might have tried a shot. Sociedad countered with 2 of their own, the first a counter attack when Guedes took a yellow for the team and the second after a mistake from Gaya put Willian in but Jaume made a good save.

Valencia took the lead after excellent work from Guedes, who sprinted on to a loose ball, dribbled round the keeper and played a clever ball back to Rodrigo for a tap in. Unfortunately, Valencia couldn't hold the lead,as Sociedad equalised from a corner, with Paulista losing his man. Sociedad never looked like scoring from open play but threatened from a free kick at the end of the half, with Jaume making a crucial save. Equal at half time, Valencia had struggled a bit under pressure, with passing from the midfield often going astray, Guedes the exception.

We played a bit better at the start of the second half and took the lead again, Soler threading the ball through to Nacho Vidal, who scored with a neat chip over Rulli. As in the first period, the goal seemed to be the signal for us to turn it down a notch, allowing them to score. Garay didn't clear well and the marking was suspect, with a shot from outside the area beating Jaume. Valencia had a one-man advantage for some minutes, after Zubeldia was sent off for a second yellow and started to push forward more but the passing in this game had been a let down throughout. Marcelino made a triple substitution, leaving Kondogbia on, even though he had a yellow and with the referee being very card happy throughout. It was a gamble which backfired. The ref overlooked a foul which Kondogbia committed which looked like a yellow, but a minute later, sent him off.

It looked like Valencia had squandered the chance to win it, but the team sealed it. Gabriel threaded a cracking pass to Guedes who sped down the wing and put across a precise centre for Zaza to score the winner.

Despite the result, not the best game we've played this season, I mentioned last game how we seem to switch off after scoring and in this game, the passing at times left a lot to be desired, but the team has confirmed itself as a serious contender for top four. Still early days, but what a really good start, especially after the trainwreck at the start of last season.

PLAYER RATINGS
Jaume 6.5 - a few good saves to keep himself in contention for the number one spot
Nacho Vidal 6.5 - while I think Montoya does better in this position, really happy to see another youth product make the breakthrough and well-taken goal too. Should get more games.
Garay 5.5 - not bad, but one of the weaker links and poor clearance led to their second
Gabriel 6 - defensively not as secure as previously
Gaya 6.5 - defensively sound, seemed to have picked up a slight injury at the end
Guedes 8.5 - excellent game, always a threat and incisive passing for 2 of the goals
Parejo 6 - not the force he was in previous games, as the team struggled to retain possession under pressure, limiting his effectiveness
Kondogbia 5 - an off-day, while his interceptions remained good, his passing was wayward in this game and he should have been more careful with tackles especially after getting away without a second yellow
Soler 6.5 - as with the rest of the midfield, struggled to make an impact in the first half, did better in the second and is now one of the top assisters in La Liga
Zaza 7 - another crucial goal and created a couple of chances as well and to think, a week ago we were worrying about our forwards. He has five goals in six games, with only Messi scoring more.
Rodrigo 7 - good game which should go some way to silencing the doubters. This is the first time in his Valencia career he's scored in three consecutive games. Attacked space well and is now jont fourth scorer in La Liga.

SUBS
Lato, Mina and Pereira all unrated. They all came on late in the game and had limited chance to make an impact.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Valencia 5-0 Malaga

Did I just dream that?


Valencia had got off to a reasonable enough start in La Liga, but questions still remained, especially about the attack, the team's ability to win games and whether, after proving that they could cut it against the top teams, we would resort to business as usual by conceding goals and dropping silly points against the smaller teams. Even at half time in this game, those questions were still open, but in the second half they were blown away, as Malaga were, by Valencia's best performance in a half since the Europa game against Rapid Vienna.

As expected, Marcelino went for a few rotations to give a few players a rest. Nothing radical: Gabriel returned to replace Garay, Lato came in for Gaya, Guedes got his first start instead of Pereira and Zaza started again, this time partnering Mina up front.

Malaga got the slightly better start and indeed, for the first half in general, looked much better than their league position suggested. After the first 5 minutes though, Valencia grew into control and started to looked more confident, patient build up play, great technique passing and touches, generally good defense and dangerous looking counter attacks.

In the seventh minute, we had the ball in the net, but it was ruled offside, Parejo judged to have been offside when he planted the first header. It was marginal, but probably correct. In the 16th minute we did take the lead. Soler controlled a great long ball and put in a decent cross which Mina headed back across goal. 

Valencia switched off a little after scoring, something the team will have to work on. Rolon almost put Malaga level a minute later, but Neto produced a great save. Valencia squandered a good chance to make it two, with Zaza the main villain. The defender had just taken it away from him and then it got tangled in his legs, Zaza falling over and appealing for a penalty after a bit of a touch from the keeper. Malaga for their part weren't giving up, there were a few less than perfect clearances from the back, especially from Murillo. Neto had to produce another great save to deny Muro. At half time we led, but they were still in it and would remain so up until our second goal.

That goal came from another great cross from Soler, with Mina, probably luckily, just missing it, allowing Zaza to slide it in at the back post. While two questionable decisions had gone against us, it has to be said, this was in our favour as Mina was offside and interfering.

Malaga fell apart after that, though it helped that our midfield four were giving a superb performance. Parejo held the ball up from another attack and rather than wasting it, waited for the oncoming Montoya. Great cross from him and great diving header from Zaza. The Italian's hattrick came shortly after, Mina pressured the defender well, giving Zaza time to nip in and steal the ball before poking home. What a way to answer his critics. A few days ago there were questions about his ability and relationship with the manager, now he's the second top scorer in La Liga after Messi!

With the game in the bag and a tough game away to high flying Sociedad on Sunday, Marcelino sensibly decided to sub off key players, so Kondogbia, Parejo and Zaza came off for Pereira, Maksimovich and Rodrigo.

Valencia could have won this by 6 or 7 after this point. One of the best counters was led by Guedes, who played in Rodrigo, but Mina was too slow to react to his ball across the goal.

Having seen the other two forwards score, Rodrigo looked totally determined to do it himself and scored our fifth in the 85th minute, linking up well with Guedes, whose great back heel allowed him to slot home. A great win and performance which alleviates many of the doubts. If you'd written a wish list for this as a Valencia fan before the game, you couldn't have improved on it: strong performance, many goals, clean sheet, goals for all the front three. Unbeaten after 5 games, no goals conceded in the first 3 games at Mestalla. Mission accomplished.

PLAYER RATINGS
Neto 8 - Diego who? The decision to replace Alves with this guy has worked out so far. Solid goalkeeping and good distribution.
Lato 7 - the only problem with this guy is the selection issue he gives the coach. Good in defence and dangerous going forward.
Gabriel 6.5 - competent enough performance, early days for him at VCF but so far so good
Murillo 6 - good defending but needs to work on distribution from the back, as we can't have him giving the ball away in dangerous areas as he did tonight a couple of times
Montoya 6.5 - far better than previous game and a great cross for the goal
Guedes 8 - first start and deserves more if he plays like this, always an attacking threat
Kondogbia 7.5 - we absolutely have to exercise the buy option on him. Has added real bite to the midfield and provides the consistency that the erratic Enzo lacked and all without the discipline problems.
Parejo 7.5 - Marcelino has really brought the best out in him, got a deserved round of applause when going off
Soler 8.5 - after a disappointing game last time, was almost my man of the match for this one. Looked like he's been playing as a winger for years.
Mina 6.5 - upped his game after last one, scoring a much needed goal and providing the pressure needed for our fourth
Zaza 9 - ironically up until his first goal, I'd probably have only given him an average rating, but then he produces an 8-minute hat trick. If he can do that more regularly, top four may yet be possible.

SUBS
Pereira 6.5 - solid after coming on, pity he's only on loan
Rodrigo 7 - first time he hasn't started and after seeing his competitors score he put in the effort to do the same. As with them, we need more of this.
Maksimovich 6 - looked a handy player, bit unlucky for him that he'll probably be reduced to a bit role this season

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Levante 1-1 Valencia

Valencia faced their city rivals Levante in the first derby in 18 months. While Levante have struggled in recent years, they've always been competitive against us, winning the last 4 home games. They've also had a decent return to La Liga, beating Villarreal and drawing at the Bernabeu, so this was always going to be a tricky tie.

Marcelino made 2 changes from the last game. With Gabriel not at full fitness after an injury he was replaced by Murillo. That means Valencia have had a different back two in all four games this season. The main surprise was the inclusion of Mina, replacing Zaza as Rodrigo's strike partner. While Mina is in his third season, this is only the second time he's played with Rodrigo in a forward two. The previous time, away to Atletico Madrid in Nuno's last season, didn't end well, with Rodrigo getting injured for 2 months. I wouldn't read too much into Mina replacing Zaza, with Valencia playing midweek, it's probably just rotation.

The first half was a bit of a dull affair. Neither team looked inspiring going forward. Valencia had the better of the first 15 minutes and Levante the better second 15 minutes. They looked the more likely to score, so it was a little against the run of play when we took the lead. Rodrigo controlled a long ball from Parejo well. I've criticised his decision making, but this time he got it exactly right. Instead of trying a wild shot or dribble he played the ball out to Pereira and, from the latter's cross, found space to power a header home. Valencia should have been 2-0 up. In both cases Soler was the main culprit. Firstly, doing good work to cut inside but placing a weak shot right at the keeper and then, after a looping header from Mina had hit the woodwork, heading straight at the keeper.

Valencia had changed tactics a bit for this game, going more for long balls, probably hoping to exploit the high back line that Levante had employed in previous games. There were also more shots from distance, though they were ineffective. Levante equalised towards the end of the first half, with Valencia conceding a disappointing goal from a cross.

The second half was a bit dull, with few chances. Rodrigo missed the best of them when put through, but as the half dragged on, it looked like neither team could score and the game finished 1-1.

So, Valencia remain unbeaten after 4 games against reasonably difficult opponents. We look a difficult team to beat, but there's a lack of creativity and danger up front. The battle for top 6 will be intense this season and we need to start to winning games if we want to achieve that. To do that, we need to start scoring. Satisfactory, but improvement still needed, especially in attack.

PLAYER RATINGS
Neto 5.5 - as in previous games, not a lot to do as he was screened by an effective defence, but was a bit flat footed on the goal.
Gaya 6 - reasonable game and put in a few good crosses, but needs to learn to use his right foot
Murillo 6.5 - had a good game, good to have so many solid defenders for a change
Garay 6 - no complaints, played well
Montoya 4 - ineffective in defence and attack, lucky not to get booked
Pereira 6.5 - another good game, always a threat on the left
Kondogbia 6 - competent but not the force he was in previous games and nearly got caught in possession a couple of times
Parejo 6 - a few wayward passes, but created a few good opportunities as well
Soler 4 - disappointing game, missed a couple of good chances and his passing was not that great
Rodrigo 6.5 - needed that goal and put in a good performance
Mina 2.5 - anonymous and forgettable, needs to take advantage of starts like this

SUBS
Guedes 4.5 - not sure if it was his idea or Marcelino's for him to shoot every time he was in a dangerous position, but it didn't work
Zaza 4.5 - not much impact after coming on, but Mina's lack of form means he's safe