Friday, April 7, 2017

Valencia 3-2 Celta

There are some teams that Valencia always seem to struggle against, with Celta being prominent among them. Even in 2014/15 when Valencia equalled a points record, they could only draw twice, making Celta the only side other than Barca that Valencia failed to beat that season. Though Valencia managed a shock 5-1 win at Balaidos in November 2015, it didn't quite shake off the feeling of Celta as a "bogey team" for us, as later that season a 0-2 defeat for VCF proved the end of Neville's reign. They then went on to beat us 3 times this season, including a 1-4 rout at the Mestalla. Could VCF break the hoodoo and get revenge for the cup defeats? The answer was yes as Valencia produced a strong battling performance against a tricky opponent to earn a deserved three points.

As always, there was little change in the line-up, with all the changes forced ones. Siquiera replaced the injured Gaya, Mangala returned from suspension to replace Abdennour and Cancelo replaced the suspended Montoya.

Right from the start Valencia showed what they were made of, with huge commitment and pressing. In the first 7 minutes, the side got a ridiculous five corners, but unfortunately couldn't do anything with them. Parejo and Soler had half chances but they were wide, though VCF continued controlling the game, especially in midfield.

Totally against the run of play, Celta took the lead. They'd only managed one tame shot up to then, but Soler gave away a foul on the left side and the in-swinging cross was headed in. It's frustrating that Valencia, who have players like Mangala and Garay who are good in the air, seem to often concede from set pieces. Really, the fault seems to lie more with Alves. Good as he is, aerial balls seem to be his weakness and we saw that again, with him mistiming his jump. Celta improved a bit after that and Valencia were unable to sustain their early dominance, with both teams struggling to carve out clear chances.

In the last ten minutes of the half, Valencia got back on top and got the equaliser we deserved. Zaza showed real quality, controlling a good ball from Garay, and then playing a crafty backheel into the path of Cancelo, who squared for Parejo to score with a nice one touch finish. A great team goal and it wouldn't be the first Mestalla would see.

Valencia started the second half as they started the first, pressing and with commitment but couldn't  find the breakthrough. The front three don't quite have the understanding needed. Zaza was fighting for everything, but often other players wouldn't follow up and half opportunities were wasted. Cancelo carved out the best chance in the 60th minute, with the keeper pushing his shot on to the post.

Nonetheless, VCF finally edged ahead in the 65th minute with another nice team goal. Enzo collected a pass in midfield, set Lato away and he squared well for Munir to produce another nice one-touch finish. Could we maintain the lead? The team pushed forward, looking for a third, with the best chance falling to Munir, but he couldn't create the space needed to get a clear shot off.

Frustratingly, VCF then threw away the lead. Soler brought Aspas down in the box. It was a soft penalty, as Aspas was clearly looking for it, but as there'd been contact, not much we could do. For the second time this season, Aspas beat Alves from the spot. Since the start of the 2014/15 season, Valencia have conceded the most penalties in La Liga: 23 in total (Celta are second with 21 conceded.)

It looked like the Celta jinx had struck again, but the team's workrate got the winner it deserved. Enzo produced a storming run through midfield and found Soler. The youngster still had a lot to do, but produced a brilliant chip for the winning goal.

I said in the previous post that Valencia's performances are more like a top six side now and this confirmed that. The team looks hungry and works hard, Mestalla is becoming a fortress again, with 5 wins and a draw in the last 6 games there. It's a shame we didn't see more of this in 2016 and threw away our chance of a good finish then, but hopefully the team can end this season on a high.

Alves 6.5 - struggles with aerial balls as noted, but generally effective performance
Siquiera 6 - put in a reasonable shift up and down the wing, though he's no Gaya
Mangala 7 - very solid game, cut out lots of dangerous attacks
Garay 6.5 - a strong presence in defence and involved in the first goal
Cancelo 7.5 - the worries about him being whistled were quickly dispelled, as he answered his critics perfectly with a great performance
Enzo 7.5 - great game, controlled the midfield and involved in two of the goals. There was a time when he could never play the full 90 minutes, so to see him charging through midfield in the 85th minute is a nice sight.
Parejo 6.5 - while some passing was wayward, he was part of a strong midfield trio which controlled the game
Soler 8 - moved to the right for this game. Game to remember, with great commitment, confidence and a deserved golazo to win the game. For now, tackling is his weakness, as his mistimed tackles cost us both goals, but he's young with plenty of time to improve that with experience.
Munir 7 - I still say we keep him, as he's one of the few of our players who scores and that's what wins games
Orellana 6.5 - far better off in a more central role
Zaza 7.5 - worked hard as usual, fought for everything and showed his quality in the first goal. Still not the answer to our goalscoring problems, but doing well for now and a deserved standing ovation.

Lato 7 - got his chance and put in a great 25 minutes. Would be good to see what he could do in a full ninety.
Mina 6 - good work rate against his old club
Medran N/A - still hasn't fulfilled his early promise