Posts Tagged ‘Valencia’

Javi Fuego

As Valencia legend David Albelda departed in 2013, it became apparent that Los Che were in dire need of a new anchor in midfield. Despite his influence over the years, Albelda regressed heavily in his final two seasons and struggled to keep up with the pace of the game; errors seeped in due to pressure, and thus the search for a new defensive-midfielder began.

Valencia swept in for Javi Fuego, 29 at the time, on a free transfer. Fuego had spent three excellent years at Rayo Vallecano, deployed as a box-to-box midfielder in Paco Jemez’s attacking system. Yet, when he was asked to sit and break up play, his true qualities shone. He allowed Roberto Trashorras to take a few more steps into the final third, he covered for when his wing-backs went on marauding runs and he cast a protective net over his defence that, ultimately, kept Rayo from being whitewashed game after game. With no contract renewal signed, Fuego was given his chance to seek pastures green – and, thus, Valencia came knocking.

Fuego struggled to fit in immediately, viewed as too aggressive to anchor a Valencia midfield that was often susceptible to being overrun. But he was able to give Dani Parejo freedom to dictate a game, and that helped the now Valencia captain reach the level that everyone had expected of him as a kid. That’s the thing with Fuego: not only will he protect the midfield, he will let the individuals within it express themselves and thus become better footballers. His rise from being a perceived liability to one of the most important cogs of Valencia’s ever-changing midfield has been unsurprising to most.

With the abundance of technical ability in Valencia’s current midfield options (Parejo, Enzo Perez, André Gomes and Rodrigo De Paul), Fuego has to operate as the key balancing act. He is the water carrier of the side, ensuring that things are safe for others to pile on forward and exert their various influences. Far from aesthetically pleasing, the Spanish defensive-midfielder racks up tackles and interceptions like no other. Take him out of the Valencia midfield and they crumble both due to opposition pressure and systematic changes from Nuno Espirito Santo to adapt to Fuego’s absence. This often involves Perez operating as a ball-winner, but his job is far less successful than what the Spaniard is capable of. Los Che look disjointed and easy to pierce through for opposition players. The defence becomes vulnerable, the full-backs lose their precious cover. Possession for Valencia then becomes a game of who can play the riskiest pass out of impatience to create goals. Fuego, on the other hand, is far from technically gifted but not entirely deficient with the ball at his feet; his safe passing is a necessity rather than a tool that handicaps Valencia.

Fuego was key in Valencia’s Champions League qualifiers, playing a crucial role in repelling Monaco attacks and alleviating pressure beset upon his defence. He is perfect for away games, capable of making tactical fouls to slow the game down yet always having the discipline to wait for the perfect opportunity to tackle (pictured below). In home games, Fuego can operate as the anchor who allows everyone to have fun. In away games, his importance multiplies by ten. He leads by example, barking orders to organise his midfield and ensure that shape does not break off.

Covering for his full-back. Could do the

Covering for his full-back. Could do the “normal” thing of slotting back in midfield, but he opts to stand off that position and wait for Monaco’s play to approach him as he predicts.

As he predicted, play comes his way and he applies pressure on the opposition player to win back the ball. But once he sees that the player has an open man to pass to, he retreats into the previous position to, again, await a run down his radius.

As he predicted, play comes his way and he applies pressure on the opposition player to win back the ball. But once he sees that the player has an open man to pass to, he retreats into the previous position to, again, await a run down his radius.

It's here where he finally commits, once the opportunity arises. He could have flown in twice in the previous seconds, but he waits. With that precise tackle, he wins back possession and Valencia embark on a dangerous counter. He is crucial to their system in Europe especially.

It’s here where he finally commits, once the opportunity arises. He could have flown in twice in the previous seconds, but he waits. With that precise tackle, he wins back possession and Valencia embark on a dangerous counter. He is crucial to their system in Europe especially.

The issue with Fuego and Valencia is that there is no true alternative to him. Signed in the summer was Danilo Barbosa – on loan from Sporting Braga – who arrived with a lot of hype and praise surrounding his game. At just 19-years of age, there is an almost 13-year gap between both him and Fuego. Danilo is far too inexperienced, but undoubtedly talented and enthusiastic, while Fuego will soon become susceptible to injuries like most combative players in their 30s do. It is a clear concern for Valencia, who seem a tad too engrossed in employing flashy players for the midfield rather than someone who can become the heir to Fuego in the next 2-3 years; as good as he is, there will come a time when this notion will have to be at the very least pondered on.

As of now, age is far from an issue in Fuego’s game though. He plays with an enthusiasm, concentration and energy that can be found in any player at his physical peak. This energy comes natural to him due to his previous ventures in the box-to-box role; he does not tire late in the game like Albelda did in his final years. If not for his age, the Spaniard would be one of the most sought after defensive-midfielders in Europe. Luckily for Valencia, his age repels many from attempting to pluck him away. Yet it is almost bewildering how sides with lesser-quality always enquire for Fuego – something not reflective of his quality; Valencia swat the enquiries away, but it begs the question: how understated is Fuego’s quality?

Ultimately, he is one of the best holding midfielders in Spain and vastly underrated not only in the country, but in Europe too. There’s a generation of veteran midfielders like him in La Liga that are still performing to a high level: Bruno Soriano, Tiago, Trashorras etc. They all play at a high level and retain an intriguing youthfulness to their game. The one thing in common between all of these names? They’re unequivocally important for their sides. Bruno leads and anchors, Tiago bursts from box to box breaking up play and initiating attacks while Trashorras is the playmaker – the man who dictates play and tempo.

If Peter Lim’s relationship with Jorge Mendes is to continue, then perhaps the heir to Fuego will be found in someone like William Carvalho who has been linked to the club already. Valencia cannot afford to have another Albelda situation on their hands where they neglect the age of an important player until he becomes physically incapable to carry out his role – and then ensues a scramble for names and numbers.

Fuego’s importance to this Valencia side is both impressive and scary. One injury and Los Che’s midfield snaps in half, but without injuries it looks like one of the most perfectly balanced midfields in La Liga.

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You already know who scored the most goals, who some opine was the best player; but have you seen a La Liga alphabet of the best and worst performers? Probably not. So, here is mine with almost (sorry, Levante) one mention of every club in the league.

A – Aduriz. The Athletic Bilbao striker produced his best league goal scoring season (18) and cemented himself as the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga as well. Additionally, his five Copa del Rey goals steered Athletic to the final. The Basque club’s tough task will be when the 34-year-old requires replacing. Some bright names come to mind from the academy (Villalibre, Williams and Guillermo), but it will take a while until the towering forward’s influence can be remotely replicated.

Aduriz

B – Bueno. Like the former, Alberto Bueno turned in his highest scoring season ever in La Liga. The Real Madrid product helped Rayo Vallecano to another comfortable season finish by netting 17 – including four goals in one game. Such was the high magnitude of his performances that, once the season ended, FC Porto acquired his services.

C – Camacho. The Malaga midfielder’s season was his best since the 12/13 season. In fact, some would argue it was better. Casting a net over his defence, Camacho produced three successful tackles and three interceptions, on average, per game. A staggering amount for a Malaga side that were outplayed and overrun in midfield a multitude of times last season under Bernd Schuster.

D – Djukic. The manager was only at Cordoba for five months, but results did not quite reflect the influence he had on his players. For a while under Djukic, the players were happy and playing more positive and fluid football than under Albert Ferrer – whom they failed to win a game under. The squad just wasn’t good enough for any manager to save; three men tried. Djukic has had horrid luck choosing teams to manage since departing from Real Valladolid to Valencia. His talent as a manager is quite high, and he is still learning, but perhaps he should choose potential jobs better.

E – Eibar. Their fairytale story was almost as impressive and welcome as their scintillating form at the start of the season. At one point, they were as high as 8th – this, with the smallest budget and stadium in the league. They were overachieving by a long stretch of the imagination. But their squad size showed after January, when fixtures become thicker and targets intensified. They capitulated, picking up just 9 points from January 16th until the final day. Unfortunately, their story was cut short with no fairytale ending: a relegation on head-to-head. 35 points did not suffice for them the way it did with Deportivo and Granada.

F – Fabricio. The Spanish goalkeeper just has not received the praise he deserves. His season has been on par with that of Keylor Navas’ in his final year at Levante. Double saves, triple saves, last minute saves, one-on-one saves – he has done the lot to keep Deportivo in La Liga. Without him, the club would have gone down even before Cordoba. He made 77 saves and kept 11 clean-sheets; most of which were, without exaggeration, solely down to him. Even on the final day his influence was tantamount to Depor’s survival. Two double saves kept the Galicians in the game at the Camp Nou. A game which Depor would draw 2-2 to ensure safety.

fabri

G – Gracia. Malaga struggled excruciatingly last season under Schuster, scraping the relegation zone and playing some negative football. Nordin Amrabat was their only spark and subsequent reason as to why they stayed up. Their appointment of Javi Gracia – to replace Schuster – was a masterstroke. Malaga have played some beautiful, expansive football with one of the youngest starting XI’s in the league. In fact, their forwards’ performances were of high enough level that Vicente Del Bosque deemed them good enough for the Spain setup: Juanmi and Samu. Gracia is a young manager fixated on playing good, attacking football through the prism of youth. With a better finisher than Juanmi, Malaga could well have finished in a Europa League spot or beyond.

H – Hernandez. Celta’s Pablo Hernandez scored one of the finest goals of the season – a mid-air back-heel flick past Moya – but his season consisted of sporadic starts and inconsistency in the final third. His influence was minimal, his involvement in associative play lacking. The Chilean was underwhelming despite the chance to have all eyes on him following that nonchalant goal against Atletico Madrid.

I – Iñigo. Real Sociedad’s defender was a highly sought after product two seasons ago for his stalwart defensive performances during a successful campaign from the Basque club. Although last season was poor, riddled with defensive errors and inconsistencies, this season was the opposite. He was outstanding, especially since Moyes’ arrival and insistence on a strong defence. Despite very few speaking highly of him, rest assured his performances were back to being consistent and excellent. He is ready for a move to better things.

J – Jonathas. On loan from Pescara, the Elche striker was one of the most impressive in the league. He scored and created circa 60% of Elche’s goals and was the standout reason as to why the club avoided relegation once again. His big upper-body, combined with pace and quick feet has drawn comparisons to Diego Costa quickly. I see him more in the mould of Bacca, personally. Speaking of which, he could very well be the Colombian’s replacement should Sevilla feel like parting ways.

Jonathas

K – Krychowiak. Simply the best defensive-midfielder in the league at the moment. When Ivan Rakitic departed, many were waiting to see who the like-for-like replacement was, but Emery opted for a combative midfielder to shake up the system. Krychowiak has been phenomenal in breaking up play, protecting his defence and winning aerial duels. His passing range has been a plus, debunking the myth that combative midfielders have null passing range.

L – Luis Enrique. The Barcelona manager was quickly lambasted and vilified at the start of the season for “stripping Barcelona of its identity” as one writer scribed. Barcelona were winning without dominating, scoring just one goal – typically from a youngster. But patience is key and Luis Enrique is now on course for a treble-winning season. He has converted Barcelona from a tiki-taka style no longer suiting their set-up, to a more explosive attacking approach. This has coincided with what I believe is Messi’s greatest period of form ever. This focus on attacking has seen every ounce of power, technicality and intelligence squeezed out of the best forward line in Europe: Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

M – Mediterráneos. I may be cheating a bit, but Almeria’s stadium name is long enough and they deserve a bit of the spotlight. Their home form against sides battling them for survival was astounding. They comfortably outplayed and pummelled teams – for a while, they were feared for this trait. But their away form was lacking and the over-reliance of winning on home turf became apparent. Despite their relegation, Almeria played better football than the two teams that finished above them on the final day.

N – Nolito. The Celta forward was outstanding – bar a dip in form from January until February. He scored 12 and assisted 11 – a great return which placed Celta just four points away from a Europa League spot. His season was so good that Del Bosque called him up to the Spain squad. This was, without a doubt, better than his season with Granada or anything he ever produced with Benfica.

O – Otamendi. Valencia haven’t had a centre-back this good since Ayala’s departure. Genuinely. He has been the best centre-back in La Liga this season, and this after being a risky signing. He has scored important goals, defeating big teams, but has also been the key in a defence that only conceded 32 goals – especially impressive because most of it was made up of new players. It is no surprise that the biggest of teams are seeking his signature.

Otamendi

P – Pepe. The Portuguese defender is often ridiculed and parodied for his aggressive, air-headed nature but this season has seen a complete transformation. He has outperformed Sergio Ramos – something which has not happened since he arrived at the club. He was a rock in the heart of Real Madrid’s defence and is beginning to gain (genuine) praise that is not followed by sly remarks about his outlandishness.

Q – Quique Sanchez Flores. Aside from being the most well-dressed manager to ever grace a football pitch, it was a shame to see Quique manage for little over 40 days in La Liga. Employed by Getafe, he shortly left after a dispute with the shambolic board. He is an intelligent manager with an exceptional eye for analysis (as shown by his punditry on TVE and others). It would be nice to see Quique manage in a top league again and, this time, for a longer period of time.

R – Rico. Rare is the occasion when a 21-year-old goalkeeper, in his debut season, outshines the veteran ahead of him in such fashion that wins him a call-up to his elite national team. This has been the season of Sergio Rico. Replacing an injured Beto, he has become the undisputed number one. Reflexes, cross-claiming, handling… name it, he has it. The only thing needed from Rico is a full season to assess his weakness and strengths but, as of now, he has been one of the finest goalkeepers in the country. Which says a lot when you consider the quality of his fellow shot-stoppers.

S – Sergio Gonzalez. Another refreshing, young manager in La Liga with a lot of talent. Sergio almost took Espanyol to another Copa del Rey final, but his work in the league was as commendable. Up until the final day, the Catalan club were still in contention for a Europa League spot. His man-management ensured that the best would be seen again from Stuani and Garcia in attack but also instilled a strong, defensive foundation led by Diego Colotto and Alvaro Gonzalez.

T – Tiago. The Atletico Madrid midfielder had a fantastic season – one of the best at the club. And he’s 34-years of age. Staggering, yes, but he plays with a youthfulness to his game that helps him carry out roles either as a box-to-box midfielder or deep playmaker. He can win a header with proficiency as high as he can unpick a defence. He is combative; he is intelligent. There are few central-midfielders better than Tiago in La Liga. He is the reason very few have spoken of Gabi’s huge dip of form in comparison to last season. His age is also the reason very few will appreciate his quality.

U – Unai Emery. Another Europa League final, another 5th placed finish. He is Mr. Consistency. The football Sevilla have played this season is mouthwatering. The power, energy and efficiency is matched by none in La Liga. The amount of Sevilla players called up to the Spain squad can only be beaten by Barcelona and Real Madrid – those players can partly thank him for their breakthroughs. He has done all of this to enormous effect, putting him on Florentino Perez’s shortlist for future Real Madrid manager. And maybe it wouldn’t be too farfetched to see him there one day.

Emery

V – Vietto. Perhaps the most exciting, young striker in Europe this season. His darting runs, intelligence in build-up and high level of finishing has seen him lead Villarreal to a Europa League spot. Others have performed highly, too, but he is the magic behind things; the reason neutrals tune in to watch the Yellow Submarine. His strong technical level makes it very easy to get excited by his potential. There is no doubt that he will reach the very top. I would usually reserve this for players of his age, but he could definitely make the step up to an elite club and wouldn’t look a beat out of place.

W – Weligton. 13 yellow cards, two red cards. The 35-year-old lived a season that was personally lackadaisical and lethargic on the pitch. He may be an integral part of Malaga’s defensive system, but his errors are hurting them. He is great at clearing the ball, but anything that involves on-ground work can quickly see him caught out. His erratic nature, age and regressive quality means that Malaga should start looking for a replacement.

X – Xavi. I don’t want this to become a discursive essay on why Xavi is the greatest Spanish footballer ever, so I’ll cut it short: he is. This was his final season and, at times, he still showed himself to be the brain of the side. Used sporadically by Luis Enrique, Xavi has struggled less with the physical side of the game. He is on course for his second career treble – a perfect send-off for a perfect playmaker.

6racies

Y – Yoda. No, not the little green dude from Star Wars. This Getafe player has had quite an exciting season. He caught headlines with his name, but quickly turned discussions to the direction of his technical ability. He is a fabulous dribbler, with pace to burn and creative freedom to break out of Getafe’s restrictive approach in the final third. Despite not featuring as often as hoped, every performance added a bit of flavour to Getafe’s build-up and movement.

Z – Zuculini. This young midfielder embodied the wrong decisions that most promising players make. After joining Manchester City, it is believed that he had the choice to join three clubs: Valencia, Deportivo and Sunderland. Valencia was his choice, despite knowing that he wouldn’t play ahead of the pre-existing stars and the talented reinforcements made by ridiculously rich owner, Peter Lim. He could have opted for Deportivo – where the midfield was rotated more than any other position – or Sunderland where he would have comfortably added some flair to a typically physical midfield. Zuculini made zilch starts for Valencia and just one substitute performance. His loan was later terminated and he ended up at Cordoba, making eight appearances, with a distinct lack of motivation.

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

When speaking about Isaac Cuenca, Pep Guardiola once said: “girls may not like him, physically, but on the pitch he does amazing things.” Unfortunately for Cuenca, it may now be managers and clubs who do not like him because he no longer does “amazing things”.

When Cuenca joined Deportivo la Coruña in the summer of 2014, many perceived this to be a coup of enormous proportions for the newly promoted Galician club. It was a chance for the forward to reinvent himself by reaching a high level of fitness, subsequently through game time, and build his way back up to the level some had touted him to accomplish before chronic injuries entered his career. Still, at 23-years of age, his career was far from conclusion. The move excited neutrals and fans alike, but Cuenca’s performances have been rather distasteful and disappointing as we near the season end.

The injury record was a fear initially, but the scariest prospect for Depor was that Cuenca only signed a one-year contract. Surprisingly enough, though, there is only a little percentage now that would like to see him at the club beyond the summer. In fact, even the board seem somewhat reluctant to dish out an extension – summed up by the lack of contractual talks in comparison to goalkeeper Fabricio and soon-to-be out of contract Juan Dominguez.

Perhaps the most concerning element of Cuenca’s game has been his greediness. The aimless shooting, ball hogging and reluctance to release passes has both frustrated his teammates and ruined the infrequent attacks that Depor struggle to create. In fact, Cuenca’s created chances count is only 16 in 27 games – a concerning stat when one considers that January signing, Oriol Riera, has created more. In addition, defensive and combative midfielder Álex Bergantiños has trumped those figures, too. For a player that lingers high up field and boasts a tremendous amount of flair, his lack of activity and contribution has been staggering at the very least.

There was a particular moment in January which, in the grand scheme of things, could end up condemning Depor to the Segunda (second division). Away to Levante – a relegation rival up until mid-April – Cuenca had a golden chance to secure a vital three points and head-to-head victory. Running from deep inside his own half, Cuenca broke through Levante’s defensive lines and found himself ten yards away from the opposition box. Now surrounded by five Levante players, Cuenca’s only sane option was to play a (simple) pass into the direction of an unmarked Jose Rodriguez, who had a clear path to enter a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. Cuenca, though, decided it would be a good idea to blast a long-range shot miles over the bar and squander a chance to put Depor in a healthier league position. This sequence, though, was not a one-off. That was Cuenca’s season condensed into a 15 second moment.

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Cuenca’s issues transcend poor decision-making on the pitch. In his press conferences, there have been countless rambling mentions of Barcelona and his past. This is a clear mental block that he is suffering from and it, evidently, affects his game. He appears to be struggling to come to terms with not succeeding there and agreeing to a termination of his contract one year short. But this lamenting of the past can only be put behind him if he proves his worth and quality; yet the hunger is not there. Barcelona have a lengthy track record of re-signing players who were once theirs in recent years (Pique, Alba, Fabregas etc.) and this should motivate Cuenca to grasp his chance at reinvention. Alas, it has not been the case whatsoever, disappointingly enough.

Cuenca’s attitude is another branch in his tree of poor mentality. There are moments where he plays as though he is above others – it is clear to see by his body language and languid movement that he believes himself to be playing a few notches below his talent level. Not only is this a complete lack of disrespect toward a club that offered him the chance to reignite his career, it creates a division between the player and fan base. Yet his confidence doesn’t seem to run low when he is outright criticised and lambasted by fans and the media. It contributes to this idea that he simply does not care about the delicate situation surrounding the club, nor the progression of his own career.

Injuries have lessened considerably since his arrival at Depor – an argument can no longer be concocted about his stagnation deriving from the lack of game time. He has played 27 league games, spanning under the tutelage of two managers, at a ridiculously low level. Chances aplenty have come his way to fix poor form yet he fails to grasp them firmly with both hands, rather aimlessly flailing one at them. The prospect of what could be is why Cuenca continues to get minutes ahead of the explosive Diogo Salomão – a player more deserving of opportunities with similar past situations to Cuenca’s.

The Catalonian is, without a doubt, the most talented and technically gifted player in the Depor squad. But technical qualities rarely ever outweigh the severe lack of mentality. And in Cuenca’s case, he has the poorest in the squad.

Let’s face it, the newly turned 24-year-old is the type of player who should be dragging Depor by the scruff of the neck and over the relegation zone line – especially when various other teammates are pulling their own weight. Cuenca cowers away from challenges and expectation which is concerning for a player who was destined to reach colossal heights when at Barcelona. The competitive mentality that he acquired there is bereft from his game now, and his performance levels drop drastically when he receives the ball irregularly or is asked to perform in defensive duties. For a club like Barcelona, which stylistically tends to mould their academy products into team players, it is borderline barbaric that Cuenca is anything but.

Cuenca’s saving grace for the rest of his career will likely be his name and the prestige attached to it from a young age. It is no surprise that bigger (currently) clubs like Benfica and Valencia are looking to acquire his services once he becomes a free agent in the summer. In the former’s case, it is clear desire to attempt to develop him and sell on for a healthy profit. But the latter is mind-boggling, especially with newly found heaps of income. They could do much better by spending a few million elsewhere. That is the harsh reality that now surrounds Cuenca’s career.

It wasn’t just injuries holding him back, but his attitude too. The move to Depor was supposed to humble and provide him with a platform to quickly rise up again and prove his quality. But he has thrown it back into the faces of everyone who has ever believed in him. From Pep Guardiola, to a club taking him in despite injury concerns. Cuenca may never reach the heights once expected of him but whereas that may be sad for some, it is through his own failings that he has reached this point.

In a fixture that has always produced goals, this game was no different than the others before. Real Madrid became the first team to win five consecutive games at the Mestalla and Valencia will feel very much hard done by regarding the final result. Looking at a result without watching the game will almost always gave you a false inkling of what happened – be it a team “struggling” against or “destroying” another – but looking at last night’s result and assuming that Real Madrid struggled would actually be a correct assumption because they did.

Line-ups

Despite starting up as a 4-2-3-1, Real Madrid were constantly switching to a 4-3-3 when defending and this could be used as an argument for why Isco wasn’t at his best last night. Isco has been maligned for his performances in a 4-3-3 due to his poor defensive contributions and the restrictions to his game; he thrives off playing in a 4-2-3-1, which he did at times last night, because it allows him to drift out to the wings when Di Maria or Ronaldo cut inside. Nacho paired Ramos at centre-back due to Pepe and Raphael Varane’s injuries whilst Angel Di Maria came in for the injured Gareth Bale.

Credit to MARCA for the image

Credit to MARCA for the image

Valencia lined up with a 4-2-3-1 which remained static throughout the game. Romeu paired Parejo in the pivot which, up until this game, had been quite a good pairing in the final weeks of Djukic’s management. Nico Estevez, the stand-in manager, didn’t experiment much and just let the players do the talking on the pitch. It worked to an extent.

Mellow first-half in comparison to end-to-end second-half

The game started with Real Madrid looking to dictate the tempo of the game and hold onto the ball for a prolonged time; they were successful in doing so. The first chance of the game fell to Ronaldo in the 17th minute whose wayward shot would forgive Romeu for the Spaniard’s awfully misplaced pass which triggered the Real Madrid counter. Xabi Alonso spent most of the opening 20 minutes deep into his own half, almost as a 3rd centre-back, in order to exploit the space being given to Marcelo – Alonso sprayed some impeccable, yet patented cross-field passes to Marcelo who would look to instigate attacks on the counter for Real Madrid.

Di Maria stole the show for Real Madrid as he came in to replace Bale, due to injury. Starting out on the right, Di Maria drew Bernat and Piatti close to him and combined a feint touch with a darting run to skin the two and rifle a shot in towards the far-post from a tight-ish angle. Bernat was at fault for this goal as he allowed Di Maria to cut into his stronger foot instead of forcing him wide; another player at fault could be Piatti who probably should have stuck tighter to his fellow Countryman.

Di Maria celebrates the opening goal (credit to Real Madrid CF for image)

Di Maria celebrates the opening goal (credit to Real Madrid CF for image)

Valencia would remain sloppy in possession for the entirety of the half – Romeu the main culprit – and Real Madrid would quickly pounce on these errors.

Four minutes later and Valencia found themselves celebrating a goal from Piatti. The Argentine scored his first league goal of the season and, to top that, it was finished with his head. The smallest player in La Liga, unmarked with Ramos ball watching, scored a header. Bernat’s cross was executed with the perfect pace and pin-point accuracy This is where Ramos’ poor game began. A couple of minutes later, Jonas was allowed to wriggle into the box, turn, take two touches and lash a shot at goal. Nacho bailed Ramos out this time as he should’ve been the one marking Jonas.

Only 12 minutes after Di Maria’s wonder goal and controversy had hit the Mestalla following a Ronaldo header from a sumptuous Di Maria free-kick. Why was it controversial? The foul leading to the free-kick shouldn’t have been given and Ronaldo was a foot offside. Regardless, the goal counted and Valencia were 2-1 down with six minutes to go of the half. Ronaldo scoring his 27th goal of the season and his 184th league goal for Los Merengues.

The first-half ended 1-2 and Valencia fans were quietly optimistic having seen how shambolic Real Madrid’s defence is. Estevez’s team-talk must have been inspiring because Valencia came out all guns blazing and were outplaying the away side for large chunks of the half. Bernat continuously opened up space for himself on the left-hand side and kept skinning Arbeloa in order to ping more balls into the box. 17 minutes into the 2nd half and Bernat’s incredible run past three players led to a Valencia corner; Parejo’s delivery was great and Mathieu rose the highest to meet the ball and head it past Lopez. Ramos, again, not tight enough to Mathieu and reacted far too slow to even challenge Mathieu. Mathieu scored his 1st goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2.

Mathieu celebrates the equaliser (credit to Valencia CF for the image)

Mathieu celebrates the equaliser (credit to Valencia CF for the image)

Real Madrid only did anything of note in the 70th minute when Ronaldo rounded Guaita and missed. Luckily for him he was offside. Ronaldo also found himself tracking back and helping out in defence as Valencia threatened to score another goal. Isco would be replaced, with 17 minutes to go, by Jese Rodriguez. Isco was furiously whistled off by Valencia fans (ex-player) and even Real Madrid fans who were unsatisfied with his performance.

Valencia continued creating chances and became wasteful. This was a recurring theme throughout the second-half as Valencia just grew and grew in confidence until it was eventually killed off with eight minutes to go. Jese picked up the ball in the box, unmarked with Guardado ball watching, and lashed a shot at the near-post. Guaita made a mess of it and was beaten. All of Valencia’s hard work was undone by a silly mistake at the near-post by a goalkeeper who is prone to the odd mistake. Journalists everywhere type up the words “super-sub” as Jese celebrates in a massive team huddle as Ancelotti urged his players not to get complacent.

AS headline 'Jese,  golden goal'. Jese celebrates with team-mates (credit to AS for the image)

AS headline ‘Jese,
golden goal’. Jese celebrates with team-mates (credit to AS for the image)

The game ended and Valencia exited the Mestalla empty-handed. A harsh result considering how much they dominated Real Madrid in the 2nd half. Real Madrid were awful on the night but having individuals capable of scoring whenever will almost always win you games that you otherwise wouldn’t with a team, say, like Valencia’s.

Di Maria

A few words are needed on Di Maria following that excellent performance. This is a player who is reacting very well to healthy competition with Bale. Six goals and seven assists  show how decisive and important he is when he gets his chance to start for Real Madrid. He was quoted, last night, saying “In the summer they tried to get me out all the time: they knew a 100m euro player was coming and that he would play. I’m not thinking of going, the manager knows that.” This quote further enforces the idea that Di Maria is actually enjoying having competition as he was given the chance to leave in the summer. Many teams will be interested in him but it’s important that Real Madrid hold onto him as someone who can win them games off the bench and be a star player when in the initial 11.

Bernat

Bernat was very impressive last night and, this season, has fully cemented his first-team spot after some good performances last season. His ability to operate anywhere on the left-flank is very handy for Valencia because they have someone whose defensive nous is as good as his attacking, be it as a left-winger or left-back. It’s important that Valencia build the team around this boy from the cantera (academy) as he could very well be the next gem unearthed at the Mestalla.

Ramos

It has to be mentioned that Ramos has been beyond woeful this season. Two mistakes leading to two goals last night pile onto his misery. He seems to be suffering from the same problem as Pique: constant rotation of the centre-back partner and no-one pushing him for his place. Ramos has played alongside Nacho, Pepe and Varane this season. He has struggled to cement a partnership with either one and has therefore not been able adjust his game. Ramos also has no-one pushing him for his spot. If Real Madrid had someone of similar quality pairing him and then Varane pushing for a first-team spot, both he and his partner are less likely to become complacent and will perform at an extremely high level. With the World Cup coming up for Spain it’s quite scary that both Pique and Ramos, the two first-choice centre-backs, are suffering from the exact same problem and putting in dreadful club performances.

Peter Lim, Valencia’s new buyer

Valencia, before yesterday’s game, confirmed that a Singaporean businessman worth circa $1.2bn was going to buy the club. Bankia, who deal with the club’s debt, are set to reply and finalise the deal before the end of the January transfer window. Lim tried to buy Liverpool in 2010 but was rejected. Here is what Lim promises the club:

  • Pay off all of Valencia’s debts.
  • Finalise the new stadium in 2 years.
  • Make funds available for squad additions including 30-40m euros in January.

Lim was supposedly attracted by the club’s social projects, including the building of schools around the world. 

Whilst Valencia fans are purring at the idea of their club becoming financially stable, one can’t help but remember Malaga’s injection of money which has now led to an unimaginable amount of debt. Here’s hoping that it works out well for them!