Marcelino started with a familiar lineup. The midfield comprising of Kondogbia and Parejo, with Guedes and Soler out wide is finally back together again to start a game. This was the preferred composition earlier in the season and was vital in today's victory. No surprises in the defense with Paulista and Vezo occupying the central positions with no other choices available following Garay's injury. The front featured Mina and Vietto together for the first time. With the Copa finally over, I wonder how Marcelino will use Jaume from now on or will Neto just command the posts barring any injuries?
Valencia started the game with intensity and intent backed by a very vocal and supportive Mestalla. It was clear from the get go it was going to be a competitive game with both teams fighting for it. Valencia needed the win after a string of poor results and to maintain a top 4 position while Levante needed points to distance themselves from the relegation spots. They came in with the confidence of a draw against Real Madrid from the previous week.
It would take 17 minutes for Valencia to find a goal through a corner. Parejo delivered and Santi Mina broke free of his marker and made a run for the back post to meet the delivery and beat the keeper at the back post with a header. Good work by Mina to make the space for himself and get in position.
The joy of the goal would be short-lived though as Levante struck back almost immediately from their own corner. They played theirs short and then squared the ball straight across to find Postigo who had made an unmarked run from edge of the box, past Parejo and slotted the ball past Neto. Neto had about a cluster of defenders in front of him obscuring his vision of the ball and the shot caught him off-guard. The defending in general on this play was lazy. We had them outnumbered in the box and some players just stood by not marking anyone and only blocking the keeper's vision. Parejo, who was just inside the box, could've picked up the run. On the initial corner pass that was played shorted, you can see Guedes standing nearby with Vietto at the right-side edge of the box. He chose to keep his distance and was trying to get Vietto to mark the free man in case of a short corner but Vietto either didn't hear him or ignored him and moved in the opposite direction. Montoya also started out of position having wanted to do the same role as Guedes initially and then only opting to join his teammates in the center at the very last second. A jumble of errors.
The match would carry on with the same intensity for the duration of the first half and into the second half with Valencia ahead, even in possession. A few minutes past 60 in the game, Levante would score following a corner kick, only for the referee to disallow it and
Valencia would get several chances more to score. A few minutes later, Kondogbia wins back the ball in midfield and starts a Valencia counter. The Levante players were outnumbered 4 to 2 and it looked to be a real danger if the right ball was played. However, Kondogbia chose to go for glory and fired the shot from the edge of the box, which the goalkeeper parried. I personally think he should've passed as there were available players in space.
This dominance would continue with Guedes doing something similar from the left side of midfield and going on his own wild run. He blasted by players with his fully regained pace after injury and found Santi Mina in the box but he couldn't finish the great chance. A few minutes later, Guedes would find Santi Mina in space again, who dummied the defender to make a great chance but the keeper saved. These were almost certain goals and he should've scored at least one of them to seal the game.
The game would get sealed regardless after a quite controversial decision. A loose ball in the Levante box was contested by both Zaza and a Levante player. Both had an even chance at getting the ball and in their attempt to get the ball, they collided and both went to ground. The referee deemed it a foul against Zaza and awarded the penalty which Parejo calmly finished after some mind-games with the keeper. I personally think it was not a penalty and should not have been awarded. As I said, it was a fair challenge for the ball from both players who went at it in the same manner.
There would be one final chance in the game. A through ball from Guedes would find Zaza in space inside the box but the striker couldn't even hit the target and sent the ball over the cross bar. I expected him to at least hit the target and cause trouble for the keeper but it was quite a poor effort.
1-0 Santi Mina (17')
1-1 Postigo (18')
2-1 Vietto (65')
3-1 Parejo (89', pen.)
Neto 5 - barely called into action so hard to judge as they only had one shot on target. His vision was obscured for the goal and I place the blame on the defending.
Vezo 6 - decent performance, did well in controlling opposition to a 2 shots only in the game.
Gaya 4.5 - defensively had nothing to worry about, makes decent runs but his crossing seems awful these days.
Montoya 4.5 - did decently well apart from the goal where he was lost in terms of positioning
Kondogbia 7.5 - always delivers and was prominent in offense and defense, had one selfish moment but easily forgiven for his great performances.
Parejo 7.5 - calm and composed, reflected in his penalty as well, great passing, provided the assist for the goal. Good to seem him being more active and vocal as a captain by directing teammates.
Soler 8.5 - awesome to have him find his form again and he made a huge difference in moment of brilliance which gave us the lead.
Guedes 9 - did everything apart from score. He was a constant threat to the defense, tearing them apart with his dribbling, runs or incisive passing.
Santi Mina 7.5 - good sense and sense to make space for the first goal and involved in the buildup tot the second. He's now matched Rodrigo at 8 goals and one behind Zaza with less minutes. It's a shame he couldn't convert the other two chances he had.
Vietto 6.5 - it was an easy goal to score but he did well to anticipate the loose ball and get into position. Didn't help Guedes for the conceded goal. He held the ball up well and had a few smart runs.
Coquelin 7 - as good as Kondogbia is, it makes it difficult for him to get time but I want to see him play more, he plays with such intent and contests every ball, great to watch.
Zaza 5.5 - I still value his work-ethic but in front of goal, seems uninspired.
This win gave us 3 valuable points and a confidence boost after a poor spell of games. The team did well to carry themselves and proceed with the same intensity that we saw flashes of last game. Great to say 2 players who have recently recovered from injury (Soler and Guedes) put on stellar performances and they will be a huge boost to reach our goals for the season. The 4 players in midfield made the difference tonight with good all-round performances. Also good to see Vietto pick up a goal for his confidence and Coquelin unaffected by the knock he took last game. I think we deserved to win this game. With the chances we had, even a bigger margin could've been expected but the finishing from clear chances wasn't good enough to warrant a bigger scoreline. They did have a goal that was wrongly disallowed as well as a controversial penalty against them and we don't know how it would've changed the game had it stood. We did also have a penalty call for us but the referee deemed it a dive by Vietto. The game was shaped by some controversial decisions which somewhat takes away from the win (EDIT).
With the Copa games out of the way and the League being our only competition, we can focus completely on the top 4 spots, a luxury our competitors for the spots do not have. Hopefully, we will also recover more players from injury in the next few weeks. Murillo could be returning in the next while and it would be another added boost. As such, I expect similar and consistent performances in our next games. Next game Valencia is away to Malaga who have really been struggling this season and find themselves dead last. While it should be an easy game, we need to proceed with humility and carry the same level of intensity and determination that we saw this game.
As usual, let us know your thoughts on the game. Penalty or no penalty? Who impressed? Who disappointed? What can be improved upon? Is Zaza still first-choice or do other strikers demand the spot more?