Saturday, January 13, 2024

Valencia and Baraja's stats so far

When RubĂ©n Baraja was appointed Valencia manager few people were excited. His previous managerial record was not so good with short stints at a number of Segunda clubs, none of which lasted more than a season. The feeling was that he'd be like many ex-players who'd taken the role: a stopgap until a more permanent appointment. But with Valencia staring at relegation, there was not exactly a big queue of people wanting to take over. Baraja has spoken about his early coaching here and about his first year at Valencia here.

Yet, to general surprise, including my own, Baraja has done much better than expected. I thought the team would perform similar to last season and expected a long, difficult and nervy fight against relegation this season. At the halfway point after 19 games last season Valencia were 1 point off relegation

Table after 19 games last season

and only survived on the last day. Now, Valencia have 6 points more than at the same stage last season, are 11 points above the drop zone and can even dare to eye European qualification.

Baraja has been helped in all this by the emergence and promotion of a number of talented youngsters from the academy (some of it forced on him due to Meriton refusing to buy anyone) like Javi Guerra, Mosquera, Gasiorowski, Diego Lopez, Fran Perez etc. But the team also has what it's lacked for a long time: a local identity.  Instead of mercenaries and loanees who we're developing for other clubs we are cheering for a group who care about the badge and that helps us punch above our weight. In the last game against Villarreal, our starting 11 featured 4 academy products and 2 more players (Canos and Pepelu) who have been Valencia fans since childhood, while all 5 subs were academy players.

A knock-on effect of that is that the atmosphere in Mestalla is as positive as it's ever been. I went to watch Sociedad during the Emery era. Greizmann scored the only goal of the game against us and the 2nd half was filled with whistles, boos and white hankies. I went earlier this season to see us play Sociedad. We lost by the same scoreline but the fans applauded the players off, the feeling was we'd played as well as we could. This is reflected in the attendances. 43,833 is the average for this season. That's the first time we've broken 43,000 since 2006/07 and the highest attendance since the 2004/05 season (when we were defending league champions.) 

As for Baraja himself, he's now lasted 39 games. He's 5 games away from equalling his longest managerial tenure. He overtook Javi Gracia in the previous game, will equal Voro in the next game and Celades the one after that. By March he'll have overtaken Bordalas' 46 games in charge, which would leave him behind only Nuno's 63 games and Marcelino's 110 in the Lim era. Baraja has won 41% of his games in charge, again that puts him behind only Nuno and Marcelino, a credible achievement when you consider all preceding coaches had better squads. It does admittedly see him still well behind some of his contemporaries like Pellegrino and Djukic, who both managed a nearly 48% win record. That winning 41% of games is seen as good or acceptable is a sad comment on our decline in the last decade. 

Tactically, Baraja has mostly used a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3 up to now, with a double pivot. (Pepelu has been a perfect addition for this.) The team has usually used a high press, effectively defending from the front. The team has focused on speedy counter-attacks, helped by the youth of the team. In more recent games, Baraja has shown signs of moving to a 4-4-2. It's in attack where Baraja has shown his limitations as a coach. The team hasn't added much beyond the "flank and cross" approach we've used in recent seasons, with over-relance on Gaya in particular. Another problem has been the team dropping off in the later part of games, throwing away points by conceding late goals. That's down inexperience but also needs coaching to fix.

Overall, I think Baraja has significant limitations. If this was the Valencia of 10 years ago or even 5 years ago, then we'd hear more calls for Baraja to go. I also think if we ever got an owner with clue, who was prepared to invest, then Baraja's days would be numbered. However, the Valencia of 10 years ago has gone and for now, we're stuck with the diminished version. That version needs a coach who is good with working with young players and who commands the respect of Mestalla, so that the home support don't get jittery and impatient  when a few results don't go our way. Baraja has both: he added to his legendary player status by putting his neck on the line to save us last season and has produced much better than expected results this season. Ultimately, unless results take a significant downturn, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be in charge at the beginning of next season. The Valencia manager job is a poisoned chalice and it's difficult to imagine any top level coaches being interested. A bit of stability is what is needed for now.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Winter transfer window rumours: Koba sold? Mir in?

 Over the last 10 years, Valencia's January additions have been a mixed to disappointing bag.

2015: Enzo Perez
2016: Cheryshev, Siquiera
2017: Zaza, Orellana
2018: Coquelin, Vietto
2019: Sobrino, Roncaglia
2020: Florenzi
2021: Cutrone, Ferro, Oliva
2022: Bryan Gil, Comert, Moriba
2023: no one

"Anyone remember me?"

With a few exceptions like Zaza and Coquelin most of the additions haven't improved the side much, with the very forgettable 2021 trio being a classic case in point. In that context it's best to keep our expectations low, indeed it wouldn't be a massive shock if, like last year, we signed no one.

On the positive side, for all their flaws, Meriton has resisted the temptation to move key players out in the winter window, preferring to wait until summer. Daniel Wass has probably been the highest profile player moved out and even then he was in his last half year of contract so cashing in wasn't the worst move.

As of now, the players the club are most interested in moving on are at least one of the defensive trio of Cenk, Diakhaby and Paulista. With players like Mosquera and Gasiorowski coming through it's felt that someone can go in defence.

Some of the criticism of Cenk goes way too far, I've seen "worse than Aderllan Santos" and nonsense like that. His stats and performances last season were acceptable. What was dubious was the club's decision to pay 5m for him when other positions were a bigger priority and retaining Kluivert would have made more sense. Cenk has also had a poor season. The problem is that no offers are forthcoming.

Paulista presents the club with a problem. He's an experienced player who's had a satisfactory season. His contract is due to expire in the summer but there is a clause that says that if he plays 7 more league games (at least 45 minutes in each) then he automatically renews for another season. He's been a loyal club servant who's stuck with the club through bad times, but the problem is that he's on a much higher salary than most of the squad. With his injuries and the fact he's now 33 it is probably time to say thanks and bye. 

As in August, Valencia's main target is Rafa Mir. As I reported then the problem was Sevilla's high asking price, originally 14m, later reducing to 8-9m, covering Mir's 3.4m a year salary and Sevilla insisting on a compulsory buy clause in the loan, with Valencia wanting an option. Fast forward 5 months and Sevilla's hand is much weaker. They're in financial difficulties, facing a tough relegation battle, on their 3rd permanent coach of the season and needing to move players out to make additions. Also Mir, whether it's because he doesn't want to be there or not or for another reason, hasn't had a great season. Sevilla now want €2m for a loan (to cover wages mainly) with €6m to buy Mir. Valencia are still pushing for this to be optional.

You might ask, if Mir is playing badly, why bother? The reason is that Baraja wants a physical striker to compete up front. He and Mir know each other well from Baraja's time managing the youth team and so he would need no adaptation. Really, if we could get a loan with a buy option, I'd trust Baraja on this as it wouldn't hurt to have extra competition up front.

The club's position is that there's no money until someone moves out, but there's now a lifeline. Koba Koindredi may go to Sporting in Portugal for 6 to 7 million (a figure that may drop if Valencia retain a sell-on clause.) If we got that money it would clear the way for Mir. Really the whole thing has Mendes written all over it but there don't seem to be any other moves in the pipeline. Valencia, as usual, dropped the ball on Carlos Vicente, one of the better players in Segunda this season, who would have come for 600,000, but the club dallied too long with its penny pinching and the result was that he signed for Alaves instead.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Copa del Rey news and draw

Yesterday felt very deja vu in the Copa. For the second time in 3 seasons Valencia played at Cartagena and Alfredo Ortuno scored against us, just as he did 2 seasons ago. Our first half was really poor with the game only tilting in our favour after 45 minutes when Cartagena were reduced to 10 men and we started bringing in the subs. The result was exactly the same as then too, an unconvincing 2-1 win for us. Probably the brightest spot of the night was the debut of David Ortobi, a local boy from Valencia's port neighbourhood who became our youngest debutant at 16 years and 2 months, breaking the record set by Diego Ribera in February 1994. Otorbi has been tipped for big things and looked very assured. Of course, given what's happened with in the last decade with other exciting youth products like Alcacer, Fran Villalba, KangIn, Ferran, Musah etc probably the likelihood is that he'll be sold at some point, so hoping for a good fee is probably the best we'll get. Other than that, this game reinforced what we already knew: the squad is thin and the back-up players not that great.

So in the last 16 the draw was made by our ex-loanee Mario Suarez. We avoided the lower division sides and instead got

Celta at home. In a way, that's good for us, Celta are in poor form and battling against relegation. They also haven't won against us at Mestalla in 7 years. That win came, ironically enough, in the Copa when an injury and suspension crisis for Valencia meant we had to start a central defence of Mario Suarez and Javi Jimenez.

The game will take place next midweek, either on 16th or 17th.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Valencia 2-0 Cadiz match thread

 I'm off to Mestalla soon for this one and hoping for a win. After a positive start it's been a struggle for Valencia since beating Atletico Madrid with 2 draws and 2 defeats. On the positive side, we do have Gaya back for this one but Canos, Diakhaby, Almeida are all out to add to the longer term absences of Mari and Jesus Vazquez. For Cadiz' part, their strike force looks like a who's who of recent Valencia striker flops: Negredo, Sobrino and Maxi Gomez. They're also coming in with 2 draws and 2 defeats. This game marks a quarter of the season already gone. A win would take Valencia up to 8th place and mark a better than expected start. Lose and question marks about the team start afresh.

One major piece of football news affecting Valencia was the choice of 2030 World Cup hosts. To my surprise (I thought South America would get it for centenary reasons) it's going to Spain, Portugal, Morocco, with an insulting and awkward token game each played in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay. This looks more like a way to clear the path for Saudi Arabia to host 2034 than anything. As Nou Mestalla is one of the bid venues, this puts extra pressure on the club to finally get the stadium done.

I'll be back later from this one, so please use this as a placeholder for comments. I'll be back to normal service around the middle of November.

Well, quickly, that was a fairly comfortable win. Amallah was impressive and linked well with Gaya for the first goal. Thierry always a threat and provided for Duro for the second. We were greatly helped by Cadiz having a man sent off in the 22nd minute. There was a huge downpour at the start but that didn't stop it being a good win. We had 3 good breakaway chances to make it 3 but squandered all of them, with Fran Perez the main culprit. They did little. The game marked the return of Maxi Gomez to Mestalla with Sobrino also featuring. Cadiz seem to have a thing for Valencia flop strikers as Negredo was also in their squad. Both Maxi and Sobrino did what they did best at Mestalla: run around a bit uselessly. Foulquier for Thierry was where the problems started. Stupid mistakes from him and fellow sub Guillamon gave them golden chances which they thankfully didn't take. 8th at the quarter point of the season is a solid start.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Valencia - Real Sociedad match thread

 I'm going to Mestalla for this one so another short thread.

After the high of the win over Atletico Madrid, Valencia returned to the usual inconsistency with a shaky performance against the league's bottom club, Almeria. We could easily have lost that game. Why do the team always do this?

For tonight, we do at least have Paulista and Yaremchuk available. Baraja has effectively said that Yaremchuk will get at least some minutes, so we should see his debut. Foulquier, Sergi Canos, Jesus Vazquez and Alberto Mari remain injured. 

Tonight's opponents Sociedad have made a solid enough start 2-3-1 with the defeat by 1 goal away to Real Madrid and with a midfield and attack including people like Oyarzabal, Kubo, Brais Mendes and Zubimendi and 12 goals scored so far, our defence will really have to be on their toes. Previous results against them have been all over the place. We beat them when we're weak then throw away points in good seasons, so I won't make any prediction for this, but I'm hoping for a good home win.

Well, I just got back from the stadium and have mixed feelings. For the first 30 minutes I thought we were the better team but then we conceded a dumb goal from a stupid mistake by Diakhaby. He's like Valencia in miniature: has a couple of good games, makes you think he's turned the corner and it will get better from now on and then reverts to business as usual. The second killer was the sending off of Amallah, which seemed harsh from where I was sitting. He'd been looking good up to then and almost playing as a second striker. That killed us off. I thought we'd fold in the second half but we fought well and a draw would have been a fairer result. I thought we were weak on the left, Diego Lopez did little, Gaya not much more. Thierry did well handling their winger and Fran Perez was lively. Duro was active but had very little service. Guerra is obviously a good prospect but his decision making tonight was off and Mamardashvili's distribution could have been better. I liked the little I saw of Yaremchuk's debut. He was active and a physical presence.

Overall, Sociedad clearly had a better squad than us. (Qualifying for Champions League gets you money you can use to buy better players... someone should tell our owner. ) But we mostly held our own. If it hadn't been for the sending off we could have got a draw. The big problem remains the squad depth as evidenced by the fact that our final defence consisted of 4 central defenders. With Vazquez out and Gaya often injured, that's a problem. On to the next game.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Almeria - Valencia match thread

 I'm off to Valencia tomorrow so with apologies and unless anyone else wants to do them, these will be shorter than usual until November, but a placeholder for comments is better than nothing.

Valencia produced a strong and convincing performance in the previous game to earn the first win over Atletico Madrid in nearly a decade. Nevertheless, the team remains an enigma. Doing well against bigger teams but not so well against smaller clubs. At least that's an improvement on last season when we were rubbish against everyone. So which Valencia will show up tomorrow? 

In team news, there are several absences which highlight the problems of a thin squad. Paulista is out likely for the next 2 games. He started the season well, so this is unfortunate. Foulquier similarly should be back soon. Not such a loss some fans will say, but with barely anyone else who can play as right back, it's better to have him for the last 20-25 minutes to give Thierry a rest than playing someone out of position. The case of Vazquez is similar, though he's more promising than Foulquier and his absence is sorely missed as Gaya needs the rest. Canos unfortunately got injured last game and should be out for several to come. I'd expect Diego Lopez to cover for him, with Amallah saved for the Sociedad game, though it could be the reverse. Lastly, there's the long term injury to Mari, a player who was showing promise and problematic with the team so thin up front.

Our rivals Almeria sit bottom of the table. (Useless fact: they're the most recently formed La Liga team, formed in 1989.) Like us, they narrowly escaped relegation last season An 87th minute penalty to equalise in the final game against already relegated Espanyol was all that kept them up. They did take 4 points from us last season and only a missed penalty at Mestalla prevented them from taking all 6. This season their start has been terrible: losing the first two games at home to R Madrid and Rayo and then drawing at Cadiz. Their home game vs Celta was mixed. They went 2 down, fought back to equalise, squandered 2 one-on-one chances with the goalkeeper and then lost to an 87th minute goal. In their last game at Villarreal they took the lead, but eventually lost to a 94th minute goal. On paper, this is a team we should beat easily and the type of game we must win if we have any dreams of a top half finish. In reality? We've thrown away points in so many such games before, so I hope for a win, but don't know what to expect.

The mood around Valencia now is weird. On the one hand, expectations have never been lower. Most of us would be happy with a comfortable 9th or 10th place finish, something that would have been seen as a disaster a few seasons ago. On the other hand, there seems to be a buoyancy and excitement around the team. Attendances for this season so far (obviously early days with only 3 home games) have been nearly 43,000, the highest since 14/15 under Nuno. (We haven't exceeded 43,000 since 2006/7.)

The attitude seems to be that even though the team is much diminished and one of the weakest Valencia squads this century, we at least have an exciting crop of young players from our academy to cheer for. Mosquerra, Guerra, Fran Perez, Diego Lopez and Mari might be raw in most cases, but they're our guys who've come through the youth system and will bleed for the club badge. 

It's hard to say what line-up Baraja will go for, especially with rotation and a midweek game against Sociedad to think about, but I'd expect something like Mamardashvili; Gaya, Diakhaby, Mosquerra, Thierry; Pepelu, Guerra, Almeida; Diego Lopez, Duro, Fran Perez. I would hope Guillamon can be eased back into the squad, Cenk will almost certainly play some of the game (it wouldn't surprise me to see him start instead of Mosquerra) and we may finally see some minutes for Yaremchuk.

Unfortunately, I think it was the weaker version of Valencia that showed up tonight. We're lucky to come away from that with a point as Mamardashvili saved us a few times. Our goals were great, super pace and finish from Diego Lopez after a link-up with Javi Guerra. It was Guerra who got our second as well with solid play from Fran Perez to create the chance. Sadly both times we couldn't hold the lead and the defending and marking was really poor in this game. Next up: Sociedad at home.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Valencia vs Atletico Madrid

 Valencia tomorrow comes up against one of their most annoying opponents. 

It's been nearly 9 years since we blitzed them on 4th October 2014, scoring 3 goals in the first 13 minutes and having Alves save a penalty for a 3-1 win in the early part of Nuno's first season.

Sadly, it's been a story of massive frustration since then. Even though we've beaten every other team, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, this fixture has been an awful one for us. 17 games. 6 draws and 11 defeats. We thought we'd done it early last year, taking a 2-goal lead away only for them to score in the 64th, 91st and 94th minutes. Sorry to say I don't expect to see this change tomorrow and think we'll lose by a couple.

I'll be out all day, so will miss this game and putting this post up as a "placeholder" for comments during and after the game.