Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review of the season

Valencia’s 2016-17 season has to go down as one to forget, as it was a virtual re-run of the disastrous season before. The summer of 2016 was especially chaotic. First off, the selection of coach was a dubious one. Some of our fans are never long-term thinkers and had briefly wanted Ayestaran to stay, but that all changed when the team lost the last 3 games of 2015-16, giving him a poor W3-D1-L4 record. Mysteriously, despite this, the club confirmed him as the coach for 2016-17m even though many of us voiced our worry.

Having missed Europe altogether it was pretty obvious that major changes would be needed to the squad. Everyone accepted that Andre Gomes was a goner and it was just a question of who would join him at the exit. Feghouli left for free and the club had a blacklist which included Alves, Negredo, Abdennour, Enzo, Santos, Barragan and Piatti. Also, Parejo tried to force an exit to Sevilla, which the club vetoed.

The problem was, it didn’t seem that there was any plan B. The club just seemed to naively assume that clubs would come in and pay the money required and when that didn’t happen, the useless Garcia Pitarch flapped around like a headless chicken. The club was strongly linked with Raul Albiol, Amadou Diawara and Felip Kostic, none of whom arrived. Instead, the only summer acquisitions were Nani and Medran.

In the end, Negredo was loaned out, while Barragan and Piatti were given away cheaply. That didn’t solve the problems so talk turned to selling the club’s biggest stars, Mustafi and Alcacer. 3 months of the summer had passed with little resolved other than selling Gomes.

Such uncertainty was hardly good for the first game. It all began well, Mina netting early on against Las Palmas, but it was a false dawn for him and the club as we lost 2-4 at home. Mustafi and Alcacer both played and Ayestaran adamantly told reporters after the match that both were not for sale  as Lay Hoon had said so. Instead, they'd just played their last game and within a week both had been sold and Ayestaran and Lay Hoon had been fatally undermined by Lim’s behind the scenes deals.

The next game with Eibar and Betis followed patterns which would become all too familiar. At Eibar, we dominated but missed numerous chances and lost. With Betis we went 2 down fought back well to level then lost to a last minute goal. Immediately talk turned to relegation battles. It was easy to see why, the club had lost its best defender, midfielder and main 2 strikers in the summer and the replacements were a rag tag band of loans and free transfers. After another defeat, Ayestaran was sacked having taken a dismal 10 points in 12 games in charge. Supersub Voro stepped in and Valencia won a tense game against Alaves with a late penalty.

The club tried to hire Marcelino but La Liga ruled out it on a technicality. Would they have done the same with Madrid or Barca? I doubt it. After offering the job to Scolari and Van Gaal the club turned to Prandelli. It began well, with a win at Gijon, but quickly went downhill. That and 2 wins over Leganes in the cup would be his only successes. While he could talk the talk, he couldn’t walk the walk and his last league games saw 3 draws and 4 defeats. Prandelli went to Singapore to demand 4-5 new signings. He also launched a stinging attack on the players, with an infamous fuori tirade.


It’s unclear if he got the wrong idea from the Singapore or if Lim promised him these signings then backtracked (likely the latter) but he resigned at the end of 2016. Having alienated the players and produced poor results, it was for the best. But VCF were in dire straits, 17th and only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. 

Voro took over again and was hit with a defence crisis, with injuries, suspensions and international games leaving us without our 4 defenders in the Copa. A makeshift defence of Suarez and B team player Javi Jimenez proved a disaster and we were out of the cup and morale sunk even lower after yet another last minute goal denied us the points at Osasuna. The next month and a half, however, saw an uptick which would drag us to safety. A few factors helped. The main credit has to go to Voro who showed that Valencia had the tool available to do what Prandelli couldn’t. Soler established himself as a first team regular. Zaza and Orellana were brought in, and, while the latter has been a let down, offered new options in attack. The team went on to record some impressive results, beating Bilbao and Espanyol, with the highs being the win at Villarreal and the win over Real Madrid.

Though the season has ended on a more upbeat note than the 2016 year did, massive improvement is still needed. The positive results have still been mixed with far too many lacklustre performances. The 0-4 collapse at home to Eibar and limp performances against teams like Malaga and Atletico Madrid being the main lows. Despite that, the mood is a lot more optimistic than it was 12 months ago. You just have to compare the despairing comments which greeted the news that Ayestaran would be the manager with the optimism greeting Marcelino’s appointment. This is due in no small part to the new director, Alemany, who pushed for Marcelino over coaches with questionable records like Setien. Early signs are that the coming summer will be less disruptive and more organised. The club is close to fair play limits so there is less need to sell players. Cancelo and Enzo will likely be goners and I wouldn’t bet on Gaya being with us in the Autumn, but realistic replacements are already being lined up. Here’s being hopeful that we’ve finally turned a corner.


THE BAD

Attendances: after a spike in Lim's first season, the Mestalla has been emptying. Valencia saw a 9% drop in attendances last season, with only Betis doing worse. That followed the previous season's 15% drop in attendances at the Mestalla, which was the worst in La Liga.

Concentration: the team conceded too many early or late goals.
Defence: continued to be awful, it wasn’t until late January that we kept a clean sheet!
Attack: not lethal enough and neither Rodrigo, Mina nor Munir took advantage of the chances to show what they could do.
Transfers: a mixed to negative bag, with too many loanees failing to produce. Mustafi, Gomes and Alcacer weren’t adequately replaced, though Zaza may fill the role of the latter.
Managers: hiring inexperienced ones or ones that don’t speak Spanish doesn’t work.
Communication: telling supporters you will not sell players then doing so is poor form and will build mistrust.
Absence: Lim needs to come to Mestalla when the heat dies down.

THE GOOD
Voro: deserves massive credit for steadying the ship
Lessons learnt: while Prandelli didn’t work out, his hiring and the attempts to sign Van Gaal and Scolari showed that, at last Meriton had woken up and realised that proven managers were needed. The hiring of Marcelino is further confirmation.
The youth squad: the breakthrough of Soler and Lato and the fact that Valencia B are still in the fight for promotion is a clear sign that we have a steady pool of quality youth to draw on.
Transfers that did work: Montoya for free is exactly the type of acquisition we should be looking to make. While Zaza was not cheap, he at least displays the type of fight and effort that many other players could learn from.

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