A great and well deserved away win. Also, a very rare win at the Ramón-Sánchez-Pizjuán. The scoreline may not have done justice to how competitive the game actually was but Valencia was more efficient and walked out with a win. The earlier fixture at Mestalla ended 4-0 and was complete dominance. Altogether a 6-0 win over both games against one of our rivals. This was a 6 point game and Valencia stepped up to the occasion. This takes us back to 1 point behind Real Madrid and now 11 points ahead of Sevilla. That's a 4 game cushion, with 10 games to go in the season.
With Santi Mina injured, Marcelino started Rodrigo and Zaza, both of whom scored last game against Real Betis. With Vietto's purchase option recently rejected by Valencia, I don't know how much Marcelino will use him, maybe as a late game sub.
In the middle of the park, Guedes, Kondogbia and Parejo return after a great last game, alongside Coquelin on the right side of midfield over Soler. I don't know why Marcelino opted for Coquelin over Soler but I would guess that he wanted to reward Coquelin's performances by starting him or to support the vulnerable right-back position.
In defense, Garay returned to the pitch after recovering from his injury, alongside Murillo in the center. Gaya started on the left, whereas Marcelino opted for Paulista over Montoya, Nacho Vidal and Vezo in right-back. This was a bit strange. My guess for this was that he wanted Gaya to be able to go forward freely and shift to a back 3 when he does get forward, but Paulista was also making runs forward. Goalkeeping was unchanged, with Neto still in form.
The match started in typical fashion, especially for an away game. Sevilla pressed hard and to good effect won the ball back and got forward. They were clearly out to get Paulista and just hammered the right side of our defense. A few early advances into the box were stopped by Gaya.
Sevilla's first shot came from Nolito, at around the 20th minute on the right, who won the aerial battle against Paulista and Garay and took a shot at the far post but was saved by Neto.
A few minutes afterwards, Kondogbia had possession in midfield and picked out a great run from Rodrigo behind the left-back, Escudero, with an magnificent lob forward. Escudero paid more attention to the ball and Rodrigo took his chance and ran around him to get into a 1 and 1 position. He remained composed, faked Sergio Rico out with some footwork and slotted it past him on the right to score. Again, when Rodrigo remains composed and uses his head he produces real quality. I heard that Escudero was complaining about the sun in his eyes and blamed it for the goal but it doesn't take anything away from Rodrigo's quality.
Another great chance for Sevilla came at the 31st minute. The left-back, Nayun, made a run forward and sent a low cross towards the near post where it was met by Sarabia at close distance to goal. He took it first time but Neto produced a great reflex save to deny him. He's reflexes have certainly improved over the past few games, well done!
The next few minutes involved some back and forth, with Coquelin snuffing a shot after missing the ball in the Sevilla box and on the other end a Sevilla attack for the right was stopped as Gaya denied the incoming cross. He's done a lot of those clearances on the ground as well as aerial clearances with his head.
Sevilla would get another great chance in the 41st minute. Murillo made a run on the left and took a touch past Paulista and another past Murillo and fired from the edge of the box to hid the top frame of the goal. Neto scrambled quickly and claimed the loose ball. Nolito and Murillo were having a field day with Paulista, I don't recall him stopping a single run or cross into the box from his side.
Valencia would get one half-chance towards the end of the half with Rodrigo starting a run from deeper in midfield and finding Zaza's run who's shot just zoomed past on the wrong side of goal.
Sevilla's dominance in terms of possession and chances created would continue in the second half, with Banega firing a powerful shot from distance which forced a punch away from Neto at first to take out the power and then claim the ball.
A few minutes later, a miscommunication between Coquelin and Kondogbia resulted in a loose pass from the former and possession went to Sevilla at the edge of the box but they fired wide.
Again, another Sevilla chance, this time from a free kick on the right. Sarabia took it and found Lenglet who made contact and produced a shot only to be denied again by Neto from close range.
Valencia would get a rare chance in this as Kondogbia ran forward in midfield and found Rodrigo in an advanced position after the defender slid in and missed the ball. Rodrigo took the shot on the turn and hit the target forcing a save from Sergio Rico. Good effort, as long as the shots hit the target it's a good shot.
A few minutes later, Rodrigo with another chance at the edge of the box on the right, ignored the overlapping run forward from Coquelin and cut inside to the opposite edge and took a shot forcing another save.
Sevilla was clearly dominating the midfield as they had more players than we did there. They opted to introduce Correa and Ben Yedder to add an attacking presence. Meanwhile, Marcelino responded by bringing on Soler for Zaza to play on the right, while Coquelin would join Parejo and Kondogbia in the center.
A while after the change, Rodrigo would start the run from midfield and send a through ball for Guedes who's shot was blocked by a sliding challenge from the defender.
Valencia would go 2-0 ahead with same combination as the first goal. Kondogbia managed to retain possession amidst high pressure from Sevilla, ran past a few defenders and sent a precise through ball for Rodrigo who would find himself in a 1 on 1 again. He looks over his shoulder, realizes he has time and fakes out Sergio Rico again and scores at the far-side.
With that goal, Sevilla lost all motivation and were turned down the effort. They conserved their energy and might have just started looking forward towards their Champions League fixture against Manchester United instead. Marcelino would bring on Ferran Torres to replace Kondogbia who suffered from some discomfort. Gaya would be given a rest as well as Lato came on to replace him and see out the final minutes of the game.
1-0 Rodrigo (25'), assisted by Kondogbia
2-0 Rodrigo (68'), assisted by Kondogbia
Neto 9 - his performances have improved a lot over the past few games. He is now looking more like himself and the Neto we saw in the first part of the season. He's more active, has better reflexes and saved us on multiple occasions from Sevilla's shots.
Gaya 9 - the amount of times he cleared the ball, stopped the cross or won the ball back forced Sevilla even more towards Paulista's side. Was very valuable in defense today.
Murillo 8 - solid performance, was certainly helped by having Gaya screen all the Sevilla efforts from the right.
Garay 6 - decent first day back, I think his job was made a lot harder by the vulnerability of the right-back position. He almost always had to run across and cover for it but was beaten too at times. He needs a bit more time to get back to the flow of the game.
Paulista 3 - he doesn't belong in the right-back position. I'm all for experimenting something new but he just got ran over today. Nolito and Muriel were having a field day with him and he barely stopped anything. His Muriel's shot in the 41st minute was to try to block it with his body instead of getting close and denying him space for the shot. Looked really vulnerable all game. Almost all their efforts came from his side.
Coquelin 6 - decent performance. Often had to help out his teammates in the middle to deal with being outnumbered. Going forward didn't do much but was useful in defense.
Parejo 6 - was outnumbered in midfield and overshadowed by Kondogbia. Mixed game for him, sometimes he would win the ball back and get forward, others he would be invisible.
Kondogbia 9 - despite being outnumbered, he stood out in midfield. A complete midfielder, he participated in almost everything. Great passes, dribbling, challenges, and decision-making. Set-up our two goals with wonderful passes and is yet again a real difference maker.
Guedes 6.5 - he had a few runs on goal where he took the shot but was blocked or went wide. Sometimes, it would've been better to pick out a pass.
Zaza 6 - didn't have many real chances, only half chances but didn't hit the target. He did contribute and showed work ethic by running back and helping out the defense. Held up the ball well at times.
Rodrigo 10 - a comprehensive performance. Not only did he take the two chances he had with such composure, he created space for himself and others several times. He would also participate in the build-up more often, running the ball forward from deeper in midfield. He overtook Santi Mina as top scorer and looks to be at his best form, clearly with an eye on the Spanish National Team positions.
Soler 7 - got involved as much as he could and helped out a struggling midfield re-establish control.
Ferran Torres N/A
Despite Sevilla having the majority of chances and possession, Valencia played the counter-attacking tactic to good effect. The team absorbed the pressure and attacks and did well to capitalize on the few chances we had. The Sevilla dominance was in my opinion due to a weak and vulnerable right-side. Paulista just doesn't do as a right-back, he's not in his preferred position, it's understandable. Which begs the question again? How much trust does Marcelino have in the rest of the right-back candidates to prefer Paulista over them? This has been the most rotated position and Marcelino seems unsatisfied with all available options. I think this just reaffirms our need for a reliable right-back. Montoya would be decent as a rotation or if he's lost trust as well, then we could need 2 right-backs.
The other negatives are uncertainty still in terms of the last few minutes for Kondogbia when he walked out with discomfort. We do have cover for him, in the form of Coquelin who has done well when given the chance, but still it would be unfortunate to lose him to injury.
There were also many positives. Rodrigo seems to have found his best form and if he continues like this he could very well make it to the World Cup which would be good for everyone. It would raise his confidence, get him some valuable experience with the best players in the world and raise his valuation. If he can maintain this for an extended period, he can go on to justifying his price tag.
Other great performances were Neto would saved us from the Sevilla efforts that did make it to goal, as well as Gaya and Murillo would helped him out many a time in defense. Kondogbia, as usual, also put it a stellar performances, setting up both goals. The first goal set-up was very similar to the one he set-up for Guedes against Sevilla in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
This leaves us unbeaten against the 3 Andalusian sides in the league both home and away this season. It was also a great win over both fixtures (6-0) over an annoying rival over the years and a rare win in their stadium. With 10 games to go and a 4 game lead (11 points) over them, we have a great chance to qualify. We could even finish higher up than 4th place since we are hot on the trail of the teams above us who have tighter schedules.
The next game is next week Saturday at Mestalla against Alaves. If we fix up the right-back situation and play as well as we have in the past few games, we should win. Hopefully, we proceed with the same humility and hunger and achieve another great result.
As usual, please let us know what you thought about the game in the comments. Is Rodrigo beginning to justify his price tag? Is this his best form? How did Paulista do as right-back? Have all our current right-backs lost trust? Who impressed? Who disappointed? All comments, thoughts, and opinions are welcome. Amunt!