Another loss for Valencia and our string of poor games continues. In the last 10 games, since and including the league game against Barcelona, we have 3 wins, 1 draw and 6 losses in league play. With all our other rivals for Champions League spots dropping points earlier, we could've built up more cushion points.
Marcelino broke his pattern of pairings with Zaza starting alongside Mina instead of Vietto. This was due to a clause in Vietto's contract that prevents him from playing against Atletico. On the left side, recent weak performances in defense from Lato made Marcelino push him further up the pitch with Gaya behind him in defense. This is also due to the recent Pereira injury against Barcelona after an absurd challenge from Sergi Roberto. The lineup also featured the returns of Kondogbia in midfield and Garay in defense, whereas Vezo was preferred over Montoya in the right-back position.
This section has been pretty much the same story for the past few games so I won't spend too much time detailing it. I am not seeing any difference in the way we approach games. It's more of the same and to no avail.
From the first few minutes in the game, we already gave away possession and almost everyone back to defend. Most counter-attacks that we started had thrown away possession with poor passes or with our players taken out by Atletico fouls with the notorious Diego Costa the culprit of several in a row and being warned by the referee several times. He received many "last warnings".
Neto was forced to make a couple of really good saves to deny Atletico several times and he had a generally good game. Kondogbia was something else today though. He brought much needed stability and retained possession quite well even when several Atletico players team up on him, he manages to come out with the ball at his feet. His passing and distribution both vertically and laterally were great and he did better than Parejo today in that regard.
The ball reached the Atletico box several times but that's just about it. Atletico wouldn't let us into their box. Shots from outside the box ended up in the clouds than in the net. Of the 5 shots we had all game, we managed to get none on target. Absolutely none. This was despite the added fortune of Atletico losing 2 of their center backs due to injury, one early on and one in the second half. Meanwhile Aletico got 5 of their 7 on target. Which brings me to the goal we conceded. Correa receives the ball and runs towards our box surrounded by 4 of our players but all keeping their distance. Kondogbia gets feinted and Correa fires from long range into the top left corner, beating Neto at his near post. I don't really know if Neto could've reached that ball since it was in the postage stamp of the goal. I blame this one more on the defenders who failed to close him down.
After the goal, Marcelino predictably resorts to bringing on a 3rd striker in Rodrigo to replace Lato. A few minutes later, Soler was introduced to replaced Maksimovic. Rodrigo's introduction didn't change much, he was barely noticeable but it's difficult to influence a team that's struggling this much. Carlos Soler did cause some trouble for Atletico with his quickness but he's still not at his full potential after the injury. A few minutes after his introduction he was taken out by Gabi who couldn't deal with him and was rightly booked with a yellow. A few minutes after Kondogbia was on another wild run and Gabi couldn't deal with him either so he pulled at his arm for a while and still couldn't deal him so he takes him out with a challenge. At this point, almost all the Valencia players surrounded the referee to ask for him to get sent off but he escaped it. Even with a man advantage, I don't know if we could've scored. We really didn't look like scoring.
1-0 Angel Correa (59')
Neto 5.5 - Crucial saves, especially in the first half. I don't know if he could've done much for the goal, maybe a better starting position? It's hard to tell. I blame the defense more.
Vezo 4 - decent performance in defense, not much trouble from his side. Offensively, a different story. It's not his usual position but he looked so lost going forward. Usually lost possession or produced a poor cross.
Garay 5 - another decent performance. Still think his best partner is Murillo but did well to control their strikers
Paulista 5 - also a decent performance, especially relative to past performances
Gaya 3.5 - just watched Correa's run for the goal and didn't attempt to help. Didn't produce much going forward.
Parejo 5 - his passing is still far from his best, was outshined by his partner in midfield
Kondogbia 7.5 - the work ethic this game, should be an example to everyone else. Did everything: win the ball, maintain possession, distribute the ball, help out the defense and went on mad runs forward
Maksimovic 3 - just when I was starting to think he's proving himself in the team a few games back, recently he's been less than average. Reckless challenges and wasteful possession
Lato 3 - he didn't do much for me. He can't compete with the physicality of Atletico's players.
Zaza 4.5 - glad to see him back in the lineup and was quick to make a nuisance out of himself for the opposition. Did his best with the scarce supply he got
Santi Mina 5 - even with few chances in the game, he managed a great one-two with Zaza, only Zaza's touch back was too heavy and escaped him. Could've been a decent effort to get a goal.
Rodrigo 4 - credit for work ethic but still wasteful in possession
Soler 5 - caused some trouble in the half an hour he was on but his efforts weren't rewarded
The predictability of our gameplay, the long list of injuries and a period of difficult fixtures, produced some unfortunate results in recent weeks. It is getting to a point where the Champions League spot is in jeopardy. Even though, in comparison, the financial benefits and reputation of the Champions League dwarfs the Copa del Rey, Marcelino seems to have intent on reaching the final. Whether or not that makes up for recent results is debatable. It's still early to count us out but things need to change. I was thinking and realized that a lot of the players we have on loan with a purchase option, will not stay if we don't make the Champions League. Our best chance to retain these players is to get a top 4 finish.
Our next fixture is against Barcelona at the Mestalla for the second league of the Copa del Rey semi-final. With the first leg finishing 1-0 in Barca's favor, we're still in the game but it will difficult to say the least. After this Copa game, we will have either have only the League to focus on for the rest of the season or one more game against Leganes or Sevilla. That match is still far off, in mid-April, so we can still focus on the league either way.
In terms of optimism, the next few matches after the Copa match, are much less demanding. We did have to face the top 3 teams in La Liga over 4 games in a short time with a lot of injuries. After those games, we have Levante and Malaga which are at the very bottom of the table. This should hopefully give us some room to build up confidence and produce a decent string of results.
As usual, please let us know what you thought of the match. All comments and opinions are welcome and appreciated. What's to blame for the recent string of bad results? What can be fixed? Who impressed today? Who disappointed? Do we stand a chance in the Copa game?