Sunday, April 9, 2017

Granada 1-3 Valencia

Earlier this year this looked like a potential crunch relegation battle for both sides. Fast forward to April and it still was for Granada, but since January, Valencia have rapidly improved and the relegation word has disappeared from Valencia's vocabulary. Indeed, in only a couple of games' time, VCF should be mathematically safe. I've complained here before that we so often raise our game against the big teams, but then screw up against smaller sides. Despite Granada coming into the game with 1 draw and 4 defeats, this still looked like the type of banana skin that we've slipped on so many times. So it's to the team's credit that they produced an easy win.

Valencia made 5 changes for this game. Up to now Voro has generally gone conservative with his line-ups, usually only making enforced changes in the cases of injuries and suspensions, so this was a departure from the norm. Garay and Enzo were injury doubts, so Abdennour and Medran replaced them. Mina replaced Munir, and like Medran, made his first start since early February. Orellana was dropped after a series of disappointing showings, with Cancelo being pushed up to replace him and Montoya returning from suspension at right back. Lastly, Lato's decent performance as sub in the last game was rewarded with him starting a league game for the first time (he had started against Celta in the dead rubber second leg in the Copa.)

The game started well for VCF. The team was controlling the game, looking comfortable on the ball and passing around nicely. The first chance came in the fourth minute with Soler crossing for Mina to head over. Granada were trying to press, but Valencia easily passed their way around it and stifled Granada in midfield, with the home side reduced to ineffective shots from distance. Probably our best chance came when Zaza shot just wide from 25 metres. However, he soon made amends. In the 18th minute, Montoya put in a great cross for Zaza to power home a header. Three minutes later, Valencia had effectively put the game to bed. The midfield found Mina on the left. The latter paused and put in a great cross for Zaza to turn in at the far post.

It should have been three. Abdennour took too long on the ball in the box then screwed up his pass, but after a few nervy moments, Valencia broke decisively with Cancelo powering up field. He then found Zaza with a perfect pass to his left, and the Italian tried to lift the ball over the keeper, but Ochoa got a hand to it. From the resulting corner, VCF won a free kick from which Mina headed home, but it was offside. Granada were getting owned and after that, their only decent chance came late in the half. Mangala failed to keep tabs on Kravets, who got a shot off that Alves saved.

Granada had a spell of pressing at the start of the second half which produced three corners in succession but nothing came of it. Valencia then produced a wonderful team goal, passing the ball around patiently for over two minutes, with every player touching the ball and, after 37(!) passes, Soler squared for Mina, who had made a good diagonal run, to finish it off. It was reminscent of his goal at the Nou Camp last year, but that had come after 15 passes.

Granada looked down and out but did get a consolation. Alves slipped when taking a goal kick and the home side got a goal which gave them hope. It was totally undeserved and the game petered out after that. Munir came on for Zaza and missed a couple of good chances and Lato could have done better with a breakaway where he seemed unsure whether to shoot or pass and lost the ball while trying to decide.

Ultimately, while the performance didn't quite reach the level it did against Celta, it didn't have to. It's unlikely that Valencia will be visiting Granada in 2018, but still, it's good to see the team keeping focus and ending a great week with another win. That's the first time this season we've won three in a row and the first time since September 2014 that the team has scored 3 goals in three consecutive games. The team goes into next week's game with Sevilla in good shape. There were stories earlier this week that Voro had said he didn't want to stay. Hopefully that's not true or he will change his mind. This squad has a good dynamic now, so why take the risk of yet another coach?

Alves 6 - mistakes happen, he'd done his job up to then
Lato 6.5 - took his opportunity well and provided a solid presence at the back, but looked less assured going forward.
Mangala 7 - good game, cut out most of the opposition attempts
Abdennour 6.5 - aside from one horror moment, there was little sign of last season's Abdennour, as he proved himself to be a solid replacement.
Montoya 7 - had my doubts about him earlier in the season, but he's proved to be a decent (and free) right back
Medran 5.5 - didn't notice him much, but didn't notice many Granada attacks through the middle either, so I guess he did his job. However, with Soler having made the breakthrough and Maksimovic joining in the summer, needs to make better use of chances like this.
Parejo 6.5 - as in the last game, controlled the midfield well
Soler 7.5 - lively game as always, was spraying the ball out to the wings with ease
Mina 7 - one goal, one assist and one disallowed goal must put him back in the reckoning for a starting place
Zaza 8.5 - we complained that despite his workrate, he wasn't scoring. Can't complain here. Is proving all his doubters (me included) wrong with every game.
Cancelo 7.5 - another really good game in his best position. Will be missed if he does leave.

Munir 5 - was active, but squandered a couple of good chances for the fourth
Orellana 4.5 - after a great start, continues to disappoint and will now have to fight for his place in the team
Siquiera N/A - did what he had to do after coming on, though he didn't have much to deal with