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.