A close-run affair at Mestalla with Valencia barely getting the win. Valencia played the better game of the two and should've won by more but an important win nonetheless. Real Sociedad are placed in the bottom half of the table but it was said before that we shouldn't take this game as easy and it proved correct as they had chances to equalize the game as well. Both sides had usual starters out from injury. Valencia was coming to the game with a 2 game win streak against Levante and Malaga while Sociedad came into the game on the back of a Europa League elimination mid-week.
The lineup mostly remained unchanged from last week's game against Malaga. One change was Mina playing alongside Rodrigo instead of Vietto. We've seen this pairing plenty of times this season and they have a lot of experience playing together as such. The midfield remained unchanged with Kondogbia still out to injury. Marcelino opted for the same midfield that proved vital in last week's win with Guedes and Soler out wide on either side of Coquelin and Parejo in the center. The only change in the back line was the return of Montoya in right-back instead of Vezo. Marcelino kept Gaya in left-back and stuck to the Murillo-Paulista partnership in the middle. Neto remained in goal despite recent weak performances and it seems Jaume will remain as the sub since the Copa del Rey ended for Valencia.
Despite this being a home game for Valencia, it was Real Sociedad that dominated the first 10 minutes or so from the game. They didn't pose any significant danger but they had the possession and won the ball back pretty quickly when they did lose it.
Valencia would get their first chance at the 10 minute. Gaya gets forward on the left and puts a cross in which is met by Parejo who head it over the bar. Would've been great if he could've hit the target at least but he doesn't have the best aerial ability.
Another chance would be created a few minutes later from the right via a cross from Carlos Soler towards the far post where Santi Mina was lurking. However, instead of having a go at goal, he opted to head the ball back for a teammate but there was none there and Real Sociedad regained possession.
Despite having around 70% possession at this point, Real Sociedad couldn't manage to hit the goal from any of their efforts. Approaching the 20 minute mark, Coquelin finds the ball at the edge of the box and tests the keeper with a hard and low long-range effort. The keeper parries it and the ball drops to Rodrigo at an angle to left of goal and he skies the shot, didn't even hit the target. Should've done a lot better. That could've easily been a goal but he could at least hit the target. That's the minimum requirement from that distance and with plenty of time and space.
Another chance would come a few minutes later as Soler was tripped on the edge of the box by De la Bella. The free-kick was in Parejo territory and he stepped up and was clearly going to go for goal. He managed to get the ball around the wall but within the keeper's reach and the shot was punched away.
The increasing danger from Valencia would eventually pay off in the 34 minute. Guedes and Parejo managed to regain possession on the left-side half way up the pitch. The latter starts the counter attack finding Rodrigo who then distributed the ball to Montoya who had made an attacking run. Montoya took a few touches and played a beautiful cross to Santi Mina at the far-post, in a similar position to his earlier effort. He opted to go for goal this time and beat the keeper with a header. This goal tied him with Zaza at 10 goals for the season.
The second half started differently the first with Valencia being wasteful in possession among poor first touches and inaccurate passes. Around 10 minutes into the half, Valencia would pay for this. A goal kick from Neto was passed to Murillo at the very edge of the box. Murillo played a risky pass to Coquelin who was closely marked and the ball was intercepted to begin a Sociedad counter. Paulista and Parejo rushed back to try to mitigate the damage but they couldn't get there in time with Paulista being only a few seconds late. Oyarzabal's shot found the top corner and Neto couldn't do a thing.
Valencia would take the lead again after a period of further possession dominance from Sociedad. Rodrigo puts in a cross from the left hand side and the keeper lets the ball slip after getting a touch on it. Santi Mina who made a run to attack the ball, found the loose ball and took action the fastest and scored again to become our top scorer in La Liga with 11 goals.
Real Sociedad would get one more really good chance to equalize the game at the 80th minute. A free kick from the right edge of the box was taken by Canales who tried to beat Neto from that angle. Neto dove low to make the save on the line, the rebound who bounce off the Sociedad player and back towards Neto who blocked it unknowingly with the back of his arm.
The last few minutes were tense as Paulista would get knocked out and Marcelino having used all three of his subs bringing on Zaza, Ferran Torres and Maksimovic for Soler, Guedes, and Rodrigo respectively. Coquelin covered that position meanwhile, and it was good to see Paulista return to take the position soon after. Valencia held on to the narrow lead and took 3 important points.
1-0 Santi Mina (34')
1-1 Mikel Oyarzabal (54')
2-1 Santi Mina (68')
Neto 7 - a lot more active this game. He came out and collected some crosses before they made it to their intended targets and more importantly saved us from a late equalizer.
Montoya 7 - wonderful cross for Santi Mina's goal, no issues defensively either
Paulista 6 - minus one slip up in the first half where he gave away possession on the edge of the box, had a decent game. Tried his best to fix Murillo's mistake for the goal but couldn't make it. Glad to see he's not injured.
Murillo 4.5 - really silly and unnecessary error to give away possession so close to goal and we payed for it as Sociedad equalized. Other than that, had a decent game.
Gaya 6 - quiet game, did his job and that was that. I don't recall any notable achievements or blunders.
Coquelin 8 - I am liking him more and more every game. Even in periods where we are struggling his work ethic is great. Great shot to test the keeper from range, too bad Rodrigo couldn't capitalize on the rebound. Also won the ball back in midfield to start the counter for our second goal..
Parejo 6.5 - some parts of the game, he was great, others he wasn't. Good effort from the free kick to test the keeper. Would've been good to hit the target with the header too. Poor passes and first touches at times. Was involved in the build up to first goal by helping win the ball back.
Guedes 5.5 - lacked energy and drive that's usually there in every game. Was invisible for portions of the game.
Soler 6- quiet game as well. Made a good run to make space for Montoya in the buildup of the first goal.
Rodrigo 7 - great low cross to find Santi Mina and set up the second goal. Held on to possession well and better than usual.
Santi Mina 8.5 - fact of the matter is, he is our top scorer with the least minutes. Definitely coming into his own under Marcelino. His positioning and runs to find space are his best attributes and the reason why he had two goals to his name tonight
Zaza 5.5 - his work rate when we don't have possession is good and works hard to pressure and win the ball back. When we have possession, he seems lazy and doesn't bother looking to make runs or finding space.
This game earned us 3 important points and extended our winning streak to 3 games. The game ended up being close in terms of scoreline and they could've equalized and even had a penalty shout. Their best chance came from our own error and misjudgment on the part of Murillo. Other than that, we looked pretty secure. The stats for the game in terms of shots and shots on target tell a story that is not reflected in the scoreline. Despite having significantly lower possession, we had more shots, hit the target more and scored more. We were more effective than Socieded, however, that is only relatively. We could've been more effective in front of goal with a few good chances that would've put the game beyond doubt and earned us a more convincing scoreline to reward the effort. However, a win is a win and the points are deserved.
Our next game is away to Athletic Bilbao. They also find themselves in the bottom half of the table but we have to maintain the humility and desire to win even against lower positioned opposition. I keep saying this over and over but it's the reality of the matter and it can't be emphasized enough. It will be a tough game in a tough stadium away from home but we are the favorites nonetheless. It would be great to build on the winning streak and the confidence of the players with another away win.
As usual, let us know your thoughts about the game. Is Santi Mina our best forward this season? Is Coquelin making a good enough impression to warrant a purchase this summer? Who impressed? Who disappointed? All comments, thoughts and opinions are appreciated and welcomed.