Wednesday, July 1, 2020

La Liga Matchday #32: Valencia CF 0 - 2 Athletic Bilbao Match Thread

The team return to Mestalla to play against Athletic Bilbao in matchday 32 of La Liga. The team will play this game without manager Albert Celades on the sideline, having been sacked by Peter Lim on the 29th. Simply speaking, Lim's experiment failed and has set the team back a few years when they were on the rise for the past 2 years. Valencia will also be missing Ezequiel Garay whose contract expired today with no intention of renewal from the club. Garay has been one of the most solid and consistent players in his time at Valencia, and even with a lack of depth in the center back position, the club decided not to renew.

Voro has stepped in once again as interim coach to see out the season. While Valencia's target of qualifying to the Champions League is not yet mathematically impossible, it is very difficult at the current form of the team. There were many golden opportunities presented to the team as rivals dropped points, but the team did not capitalize on them.

Valencia played a derby against Villareal in the last matchday and suffered a 2-0 defeat away from home. It was one of the most embarrassing performances of the season with the team failing to get a single shot on target. Matter of fact, they struggled to get a shot period. Both goals for Villareal came from complete lack of focus, allowing Alcacer and Gerard Moreno the time and space to be picked out and volley the ball past Cillissen. The team failed to respond in the second half, allowing Villareal to continue to impose themselves on the game with no answer. 

Athletic Bilbao played and defeated RCD Mallorca in their last game, winning 3-1 at home. Despite being a relatively even game, Athletic Bilbao were the most effective in front of goal scoring two goals in the first 24 minutes of the game. Mallorca would get their own penalty in the 70th minute of the game to get themselves into the game before Bilbao put the game beyond them one minute into injury time. 

The last fixture between these two teams earlier in the La Liga season, saw Valencia grab all 3 points against Athletic despite playing away from home. It was one of the better performances of the team. Denis Cheryshev grabbed the only goal of the game in the 27th minute. Maxi played a brilliant through ball from midfield to Ferran Torres who then squared the ball across to the center for Cheryshev to finish.

One point separates Valencia and Athletic Bilbao in the league table. Valencia sit 8th with 46 points and Bilbao a point below them at 9th. It should be said that Valencia is still undefeated at home in La Liga.

SQUAD

Mangala returns to the squad after serving his suspension in the previous game. Diakhaby also returns to the lineup after being cleared by the medical team. Gaya is the notable absence in this game with a hamstring injury that was picked up last game. There is an estimate of 10 days on his return to action. 

Costa starts for the injured Gaya, Florenzi is chosen over Wass, Soler is benched in favor of playing both Guedes and Ferran, and Diakhaby is restored to the team.

Bench: Domenech, Thierry, Mangala, Wass, Guillamon, Soler, Coquelin, Cheryshev, Kang In, Gameiro, Vallejo, Sobrino

FIRST HALF

12' - Goal for Athletic Bilbao. 0-1. Kondogibia's pass in midfield is poor and gets intercepted by Munain. He picks out Williams on the wing who then squares the ball to set up Raul Garcia's shot which sends Cillissen the wrong way.
19' - Valencia lose the ball at the edge of their area. The time the culprit is Ferran. Cordoba fires at goal but Cillissen just gets a touch on it with his trailing leg. Paulista almost deflects it back it into the goal.
39' - Florenzi puts out a great cross to Maxi Gomez, setting up the best chance for Valencia. Maxi Gomez gets away from his defender and attacks the ball but the header is wide. Maxi needs more of this kind of service. He should do better with the finish though.
45' - Three minutes of stoppage time added by the referee.

HALF-TIME

Well, everyone knew that just removing Celades and having Voro take over would not be enough to cause dramatic change; especially not from the first game. There is clearly plenty of work to get this side back to where they need to be. That is not to say though, that this is even Voro's responsibility. He could've simply been tasked to see out the season and get what he can from it.

As to how the players have taken it, some players, especially Kondogbia and Parejo, seem to be lacking in confidence as they play or weighed down by the stress of this week. Rodrigo seemed to be in this camp as well. Others like Guedes and Ferran, seem unaffected.

The only clear and significant change is the absence of Soler in favor of playing both Guedes and Ferran. They also have both been allowed the freedom to swap flanks whenever they wished.

After the first ten minutes or so of the game where Valencia showed intent to change things, the team very quickly lost confidence and let Athletic Bilbao take control of the game. Guedes had the best chance during that period of time for Valencia, forcing a save from the keeper.

Soon after, Bilbao would take the lead through a dispossession of Kondogbia's pass by Munain. The ball made its way to Williams who simply had to fire the ball across goal where Raul Garcia had managed to get goal-side of Florenzi and slot the ball past Cillissen.

Valencia would be pinned in their own half for the next while but slowly over the course of the half make their way back into the game. Maxi Gomez would be involved in just about all Valencia's chances that would come. He finds the spaces well, attacks them but often the delivery to him is sub-par. The one time he did get a good cross from Florenzi, the finish was poor. This was a problem that Valencia dealt with often, regardless of coach.

Valencia finished the half with the momentum in their favor and on the rise. If they carry it forward, it is very possible to get back into the game and cause serious problems for Bilbao. Voro needs to look to lift his players and instill confidence in those that seem to be lacking it.

Half-time stats. 5-2 shots, 1-1 shots on target, 52-48 %possession.

SECOND HALF

47' - Goal for Athletic Bilbao. 0-2. Jaume Costa tried to play the ball out from the back and sees his pass to Parejo get intercepted. Two quick passes from Bilbao to find Raul Garcia, who looks up, takes a touch and fires from distance, striking it well enough to beat Cillissen. More self-inflicted misery by Valencia.
52' - Williams plays a one-two at the right edge of the Valencia penalty area and sets himself up for a good chance at goal. Jaume Costa puts in a sliding challenge to deny the shot.
54' - Voro needs to make a change soon. Athletic Bilbao are carving out the Valencia midfield and defense with ease time and time again.
61' - Double substitution for Valencia. Ferran Torres and Guedes are both replaced. Cheryshev and Soler are introduced to replace them.
63' - Both substitutions for Valencia have put the ball into the box on their first few touches of the ball. The message must've been: more service into the box.
65' - Athletic Bilbao introduce their own double change. Unai Lopez and Inaki Williams are both replaced. Villalibre and Vesga come on in their place.
67' - Another chance for Valencia gets squandered due to a poor final pass. Cheryshev had spotted the run from Maxi Gomez but overhit the pass.
69' - Cheryshev with a curling cross to the far side and this time it's spot on, finding the head of Maxi Gomez. The header is tame and off target. Needs to do better there.
70' - Cheryshev with another cross with Rodrigo as the target. He finds him but Rodrigo had stepped into an offside position.
72' - Florenzi puts in an early cross to the far post and finds Maxi Gomez. He heads the ball down to Rodrigo who takes a shot and misses. These wasted chance could've had Valencia level already.
74' - Third change for Valencia. Maxi Gomez is replaced by Kevin Gameiro.
81' - Second set of changes for Athletic Bilbao. Munain and Raul Garcia are taken off to be replaced by de Marcas and Sancet.
82' - Yellow card shown to Diakhaby for tripping up the opposition player who had passed him.
84' - Last set of changes from Voro. He replaces both Parejo and Florenzi, bringing on Vallejo and Wass. There is a change of formation to a 4-3-3 to match. Captain's armband is given to Rodrigo.
89' - Final change for Bilbao, Cordoba off, Balenziaga on.
90' - Four minutes of time added by the referee for stoppages.
90+1' - Soler delivers a free kick into the penalty area. Diakhaby contest the keeper for the ball and earns himself a punch as the keeper comes out to deal with the ball. It falls to Gameiro at the edge of the box with the keeper still out of place. He cannot hit the target as the effort is high and wide.

FULL-TIME

Valencia's 17 game unbeaten run at Mestalla is put to an end by Athletic Bilbao. Valencia failed to carry forward the momentum from the latter part of the first half and suffered a second a few minutes into the second half.

This was another self-inflicted goal as the pass out from the back from Jaume Costa was intercepted. A few passes found Raul Garcia who fired from distance and found the goal.

Valencia would remain on the back foot in the game for a while after. This would change after a double substitution from Voro, introducing both Cheryshev and Soler with clear instruction to increase service into the box.

Over the remaining time in the half, cross after cross would be put in, mainly from Cheryshev, with some from Florenzi as well as Soler. The quality of the delivery was varying but mostly positive, however the finishing could not match. It is fair to say that there were enough chances to tie the game, and even further to go for the win. The team still struggles with the finishing though.

It should be said that there was nothing special really about these substitutions, as we have seen similar changes at similar times come from Celades. The difference, however, in their impact came from the instruction to do something different. Substitutions were made to address a problem rather than making changes for changes sake. Replacing Maxi with Gameiro was a result of the poor finishing despite the good supply. The final two changes saw Vallejo and Wass come in, and even a change in formation. This was more of a last-ditch effort to change the tide of the game.

The difference in coaching experience has shown. There were still many aspects of the game that were very poor, especially the finishing. However, it would be unfair to expect these to happen from one game or for these changes to come from Voro in general. He is there simply as an interim coach. If he manages to bring about change, then the next manager can have something to build on. If he doesn't then the manager should have no problem starting from scratch. Heck, they might even do that anyway depending on the changes that come with the transfer market as well as their own vision for the team.

This result sees Athletic Bilbao leap-frog Valencia in the league standings, now sitting at two points ahead at 48 points. The gap to 4th place is now 11 points for Valencia with 6 games remaining in the season. Still not mathematically impossible is what the message will be from the team and management, yet it certainly seems impossible based on form and how many events have to go Valencia's way for it to happen.

Full-time stats. 9-7 shots. 1-4 shots on target, 51-49 %possession.

Next game is on Saturday July the 4th, played away against Granada who, with their result today, are level on points with Valencia.