Saturday, February 10, 2024

Las Palmas - Valencia

 Another placeholder for comments, since I'm still travelling and this game will be the middle of the night for me.

After a 6-season absence Las Palmas unfortunately returned to the top flight. I say unfortunately because, in their previous 3-season stint, they were nothing except a pain in the behind for us. In the first game of the 2016-17 season, Valencia suffered a devastating 2-4 defeat at Mestalla, an omen for the awful season still to come. The season after that, though we had a terrific first season with Marcelino, a defeat in Las Palmas, where we had 2 players sent off, kicked off a slump in form which saw us lose 6 games in a row in league and Copa. 

Before the season, we were expected to be rivals, though not as it's turned out. Many pre-season predictions had one or both of us relegated. Instead, like us, Las Palmas have had a relatively strong season, playing attractive football which has had them on the edge of the European places, though they've been off-form recently and come into the game with a 2-2-3 record, while Valencia has won 5 of the last 6.

Both Almeida and Diakhaby should be back soon for Valencia and Thierry's injury is not as bad as originally feared so he should be back to the team some time in March. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Valencia - Almeria match thread

 This is mostly a placeholder to allow for comments, sorry to say, as I'm travelling this weekend to watch football in Germany and that game clashes with ours. 

The winter transfer window closes today and Valencia has another operation in play. The Rafa Mir move has been reactivated. Valencia made an offer yesterday to loan him for the rest of the season, paying 30% of his wages and having a buy option of 4m. Sevilla instantly rejected that but negotiations are ongoing. As I've said, I think Mir would be a good addition. Not because he'd score lots of goals, but because he'd keep Baraja happy and would fit Baraja's system well as a physically strong forward who could bully opposing defenders and help us to "defend from the front." While it's still in balance I'd say the deal is more likely than not as Sevilla want rid of Mir and Mir only has eyes for us. Meriton's penny pinching remains the stumbling block.

After 4 wins in a row, Valencia came crashing down, somewhat predictably, against our long time nemesis Simeone's Atletico. The team has a chance to make amends against the bottom club Almeria. The latter are chasing an unwelcome record. If they don't beat us they'll equal Sporting Gijon's record from 1997/98 of the most games at the start of the season without a win. Almeria, of course, actually played well at Real Madrid and dodgy refereeing decisions cost them at least a point. They also drew with us earlier in the season so this game is not one we should take for granted.

With Paulista now gone and Diakhaby still at Afcon it will be interesting to see what defence Baraja opts for. Mosquera is almost a given but his partner isn't. Yarek and Cenk are the main options, assuming Baraja doesn't want to push Guillamon back. 

The Mir deal didn't happen. As in the summer, Valencia claimed that after agreeing a deal, Sevilla changed the conditions at the last minute. Sevilla claimed that they hadn't changed anything and the difference in asking prices was only 100,000 euros. With Meriton, both options are possible, including that Lim had no intention of re-signing Mir and just went through the motions. It's embarrassing and a poor look all round.

Worse, there was also the following rumour:

"Valencia’s owner Peter Lim was considering sacking their coach Ruben Baraja because he continued to play Gabriel Paulista despite the club's disapproval."

Given that they sacked Marcelino in part for taking the Copa seriously, nothing would surprise me. Sacking Baraja for non-sporting reasons would probably be the final straw for me. If something like that happened, I'd probably take a break from Valencia until Lim sold. There are rumours that Lim is in poor health and his son has no interest in inheriting Valencia, so while I actually wish Lim the best of health, I hope he does sell soon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Winter transfer window: Paulista and Koba out, Federico in

 I did mention in a previous post that Paulista's contract situation was presenting the club with a problem. If he'd played 4 more games then he autorenewed as one of the highest wage earners (5m a year.) It seems that has been resolved and he's now leaving on a free transfer to Atletico Madrid. That saves the club over 2m on wages for the rest of the season. He made 220 appearances for the club, scoring 8 goals.

Flying to Madrid one way.

I'm in two minds about this. Taken in isolation, it has a lot of sense about it. He's injury prone and inconsistent and his disciplinary record is not great (sent off 4 times.) On the other hand, it came out of the blue a bit and is typical of the club's haphazard approach to things. Knowing his contract situation the club should have done 1 of 3 things last summer

1- Sell him and get some cash.
2- Negotiate in good time with him and his agent on a 1-year renewal at a lower wage.
3- Wait until early November to see how he does and then make a decision in good time about if he should leave in January. In that case, inform Baraja and start identifying replacements. 

As ever, the club seems to make random, rash decisions with the only motivating factor seeming to be short-term cost cutting with little or no planning. 

The club has also confirmed the departure of Koba Koindredi. He'd made 19 appearances for the first team, 7 as starter, all of them in Copa (except a league game against Celta in December 2021) and scored 2 goals, both in Copa. He's another promising young player who didn't quite happen and again, we almost have to hope this one doesn't come back to bite us as the club hasn't included any buy back fee or anything, just letting him go to Estoril for the disappointing sum of 2.5m.

At least, unlike, last year, the club has made an addition. Peter Federico is joining from Real Madrid. He joins on loan with a buy option of 2m for 50% of his rights. He's a promising youth, so we have to hope he steps up. He is at least a right winger, exactly a position needed and can also cover left wing and has even played wing back too. 

Overall, not a transfer window to get excited about, but when is that ever the case at Valencia?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Atletico Madrid - Valencia match thread

 A tough one today after a good run. To illustrate what a tricky away game this is, when Valencia last won at Atletico Madrid, it was our first season without David Villa, Diego Simeone wasn't even manager and only 3 of the 14 who played for Valencia that day are still active (Tino Costa in the French second league, Guaita at Celta and Alba in Miami.) February 2011 is a long time ago and in the time in between we've found it one of our most barren grounds, losing 7 of the last 8 with only a Parejo free kick breaking that sequence. The team came frustratingly close 2 seasons ago, taking a 2-goal lead only for Atletico to score 2 in injury time to win 3-2.

In our favour, we've had more rest as Atletico played Sevilla in Copa on Thursday, winning 1-0. The scoreline is deceptive since it was easier for them, with Greizmann skying a penalty after slipping and 2 goals narrowly ruled out for offside. Valencia also scored a surprise 3-0 win over Atletico in Mestalla earlier this season with Duro scoring twice, same as he did 2 seasons ago. In team news, bad news for us, as Thierry has a long term injury and it's unlikely he'll play again this season. 

On the winter transfer front, it's very much a case of "move along, nothing to see." Valencia was linked with deals for Rafa Mir and Peter Federico of Real Madrid, but nothing has come of those. The hold up seems mostly because the Koba deal hasn't happened, but also because Meriton are too dumb to see with a couple of additional bodies on loan with buy options we could qualify for Europe and that would repay the loan fees with a nice profit.

That was painful to watch. Atleti totally dominated us and apart from a half chance at a corner we did nothing in an attacking sense while they missed at least 3 good chances. One of the biggest weaknesses is on the right where we really miss Thierry, as Fran Perez and Foulquier have struggled. Getting in at half-time would have been a good result but I've no idea what we were doing at the end. Lino was in acres of space and scored the opener. Annoyingly, he even celebrated. As it's late here I'm probably going to switch off, so use this to comment.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Valencia 1-0 Athletic Bilbao match thread

 Which Valencia manager has the highest win % this century? The answer is not an obvious one. Ernesto Valverde won nearly 55% of his games in charge, beating Rafa and the 3rd place: Quique Sanchez Flores. Now at Bilbao and doing well that indicates what a tough game today will be.

After a morale-boosting comfortable win at Cadiz last time, Valencia came crashing down to earth with a tame Copa exit against Celta. After the game a few idiots in our fanbase ganged up on Javi Guerra on social media leading to him deleting his Twitter account. We need to be patient with these young guys.

Apart from the Afcon absences and Andre Almeida, Valencia had a more or less full squad for this one and has gone for what likes a 4-4-2 with Diego Lopez in a supporting striker role.

Bilbao come into this game in excellent form with 6 wins in a row in all competitions. They haven't lost in La Liga since conceding a late goal at Nou Camp on 21st October and have gone 7-3-0 since then including wins over Atletico Madrid, Sociedad and Las Palmas in recent games. Both Inaki Williams and Guruzeta have been on form for them and our defence will need to be on their toes tonight. A win would be golden, but a draw wouldn't be the worst result for us considering the context.

An intense first half. Bilbao have set up very well with their front four cutting off our passing lanes and showing strong defence. With a possible exception at the end of the half I don't think we've been on target. Bad news for Valencia in the 13th minute when Canos pulled up and had to be replaced by Yaremchuk. Bilbao had the better chances, a pull back in the 3rd minute creating danger and twice Foulquier being beaten for pace by Nico Williams but the latter's shots were easily handled by Mamardashvili. Foulquier overall had a very good game, I think that's 3 in a row. For us, Fran Perez messed up a couple of half chances but made amends near the end with a recovery and a pass which found Duro, but his lay-off was to Guillamon who shot wide. Valencia finished the half well forcing a succession of corners. Bilbao still have the edge so it's important our defence stays switched on. This is a game that a single goal could decide.

It was indeed a game that a single goal decided and happily it was ours. Bilbao missed a good chance early in the 2nd half but Valencia then continued where we'd left off at the end of the 1st half, edging Bilbao. Duro missed a good chance, trying to brush it in. Just as we were all cursing him, Gaya put a great cross to the back post and Duro, not the tallest striker, headed home at the back post. Thereafter we managed to stalemate them well in both defence and midfield. Baraja played it safe with the subs, effectively switching to double full backs. This meant taking off Yaremchuk, it's very unusual to see a sub who's not injured being taken off. The changes worked and we neutralised them for a hard fought 3 points. 

At the start of the season, with Rafa Mir strongly linked many of us were worried about what would happen if we were reliant on Duro all season. How wrong we were. The only players who have scored more penalty goals this season than Duro are Bellingham and Morata. An addition we do have to thank Bordalas for.

This is the first time since 8th April 2018 that Valencia have won 4 league games in a row. Baraja overtook Voro's 40 games in charge in the game versus Celta and overtook Celades' 41 games in charge with this game. In the Lim era only Bordalas (46), Nuno (63) and Marcelino (110) have managed more. Both he and the team deserve big credit for punching above their weight this season.   

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Valencia - Celta (Copa del Rey)

So for the second time this season, Valencia face Celta at Mestalla in the Copa del Rey. Celta must be very annoyed by the change in the Copa format: since their 2-legged game versus Sociedad on 1 November 2018 they haven't played a single Copa game at home at Balaidos. 

Deja Vu

Valencia come into the game in very good shape with 4 wins in a row, a feat not achieved since December 2021. The performances have been solid and the players clearly know what to do. Even if the opponents like Cartagena, Cadiz and Villarreal haven't been that great, we still need to beat whoever is in front of us.

We have most players available for this one bar Almeida, Diakhaby and Amallah. Both Paulista and Gaya had slight injury worries last time so are a little doubtful and we may see Yarek and Jesus Vazquez in their place. Other than that, I don't expect many changes since last game. Jaume will obviously start and Yaremchuk is due some minutes. 

After a poor start (1-5-8) which saw Rafa Benitez close to the exit door, Celta have stabilised. Since losing in Bilbao in late October Celta have lost just once in the league (2-4-1) with 2 wins against lower league teams in the Copa as well. That included a 0-0 stalemate at Mestalla in a dull game. They have Cervi and Aidoo out, with Bamba on Afcon duty. Celta's new danger man is Anastasios Douvikas who was the top scorer in the Dutch league last season. He's on 7 goals this season, though 4 have been in Copa. Iago Aspas is fit and though he hasn't featured yet in Copa, should get some minutes as this is when it starts to get serious.

Possibly the only surprise is Mari in the line-up.

17 minutes in and disaster. First Jaume messed up with a corner allowing them to score and then a few minutes later Diego Lopez made a clumsy challenge and conceded a penalty to put us 2-0 down. A mountain to climb.

Valencia however have come more into it and cut distances in the 28th minute when we pulled one back from a penalty. What has been missing has been the final ball and we've struggled with their press. Half-time. Neither keeper has impressed me in this one so I think there are more goals. The question is: will they be ours?

They scored a third. I did say that Douvikas was the danger man. So now it's focus on the league time. A comedown after the good performance against Cadiz. The fact is we never looked good in the Copa this season. Even against lower tier sides we struggled and this was as favourable a draw in the last 16 as we could have hoped for. The stats for tonight tell the story: we were wasteful and they weren't.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Cadiz 1-4 Valencia match thread

Valencia come into this game in more optimistic shape than we've been in a while. The expected relegation fight hasn't materialised. The team has 26 points and is 11 points ahead of the relegation zone. With the bottom 3 performing much worse than last season, 37 points would probably be enough to stay up this year. In other words, barring a late collapse, we can expect a more relaxed second half of the season than last year and if we can put a few good results together, we can even dream of European qualification.

Today's game is crucial in that. Cadiz come into the game in terrible form, just 2 wins all season, 1 of which came on the opening day with the other over 4 months ago on 1st September when they beat Villarreal. Since then they've drawn 8 and lost 7. A defeat at fellow strugglers Granada in the last game piles the pressure on more. In many ways they're turning into draw specialists with 5 draws from the last 6. Their biggest problem has been scoring: just 4 in the last 8 games and 14 overall, easily the worst in the division. Valencia fans will joke that that's not a surprise as their forward line is like a list of Valencia has-beens: Negredo, Maxi Gomez and Sobrino. They've played 8, 17 and 16 games respectively and scored... none. Negredo has only played a total of 44 minutes and as he'll be 39 this summer is surely in his last season. Sobrino is unavailable for this game due to a red card in the last game. Ex-Levante player Roger Marti is also out. Cadiz' main (only?) danger man is Chris Ramos who's scored a respectable 5 goals.

If we have any hopes of finishing higher, this is exactly the type of away game we need to win. That's part of the problem. While Valencia have been solid at Mestalla, with 5-2-2, the opposite is true on the road, with a dismal 2-3-5 record. Our absences include Almeida and Thierry. Pepelu is also probably out for this one, while Diakhaby and Amallah are at AfCon. Yaremchuk has had flu and is also under question so if Baraja continues with the recent 4-4-2 we may see Duro-Mari up front, although Diego Lopez is possible there as well. In the last game Valencia managed 3 wins in a row for the first time since early March 2022, I'm hopeful we can continue this run as a draw would be a letdown and a defeat a disaster.

So in the end, Pepelu made it with Diego Lopez the second striker.

Valencia started well, dealing with Cadiz' press and got the opener on 7 minutes. A decent team goal with Foulquier hitting a nice through pass, Diego Lopez beating the left back for pace and his cut back was touched past the keeper for the opener. Unfortunately after that, Valencia were wasteful and inconsistent in possession and gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area. It hit Pepelu's arms when jumping, penalty for me sorry to say and they equalised. Our only other chance came when we recovered and Canos shot was blocked by the defender. There was a dubious call when Hugo Duro got elbowed in the face and pushed over.

Looked a red to me, but was only given as a yellow. A frustrating first half. 

It got better. First Canos hit a super pass through for Diego Lopez who again used his pace to get into the area. Duro looked better placed but instead of passing, Diego slotted it nicely past Ledesma.

Much of the rest of the half was, as our games with them often are, very scrappy with Cadiz looking like a poor man's Getafe. Luckily, they lived up to their recent form and created little. We missed a golden chance to make it three when Mari was found at the far post, but fumbled the ball between his feet and the chance went. With Cadiz piling forward near the end and even their keeper joining the attack, but we broke out and the ever lively Diego Lopez found himself on a 2-on-1. Again, he made the right decision, finding Guerra and Javi also stayed cool to beat the keeper in a one-on-one. Game over then? Not quite. Cadiz switched off at the end and from a throw-in we got to the by-line and Mari made up for his earlier miss by putting the ball across for Jesus Vazquez to score his first senior goal.

As I said, we've messed up so often against teams like this but today we were clinical when we had to be with the pace of our young players making the difference. Diego Lopez had gone through a period of poor form but he was brilliant today. That's 4 wins in a row and the first time since December 2021 that we've both won 3 in a row in the league and scored 4 away from home. Baraja now has the 3rd highest win % of any Valencia manager in the Lim era. Now only 2 points off 7th and 3 points off 6th. Job well done.