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LaLiga 2018/19: Valencia and the battle for 4th place

Valencia v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre-Season Friendly
Valencia look set for a great La Liga campaign
Omene Osuya
ANALYST
Modified 17 Aug 2018, 18:20 IST
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Los Che are back and they are not planning to go anywhere. After a horrible couple of years that saw the team flounder close to the relegation zone and saw a succession of coaches in the dugout, the new management team led by sporting director Mateu Alemany and coach Marcelino de Toral turned the team's fortunes around.

The new direction on and off the pitch coupled with a couple of astute additions made the team more competitive and helped them get the precious 4th spot and UEFA Champions League qualification.

The team has been active in the transfer market this summer. £67.68m has been spent so far on new players. Geoffrey Kondogbia's loan deal was made permanent while the likes of Mouctar Diakhaby, Cristiano Piccini, Kevin Gameiro have been added to the team.

The 2018/19 La Liga season promises to present a different challenge for the team, here is a look at how the team may look like and perform;

Goalkeeping; Adequate but not great

Everton v Valencia - Pre-Season Friendly
Neto is expected to continue as the team's numero uno goalie

Brazilian goalie Neto joined last season and he made a difference as his saves and organization helped in making the defence more solid than it had been some seasons ago.

The 30-year-old man who was understudy to Gianluigi Button during his Juventus days is nobody's definition of world class but he has been and should continue to be an adequate pair of safe hands for the club (until someone better and affordable become available).

Spanish goalie Jaume Domènech is the backup and like Neto, he is a steady but unspectacular goalie and should provide adequate cover in the event that the Brazilian is not around.

A case for the defence

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Last season, the improvement of the defence was one of Marcelino's best work. A backline that had shipped lots of goals under former managers Cesare Prandelli and Salvador González "Voro" was solidified.

Ezequiel Garay, Gabriel Paulista and loaned Jeison Murillo formed the central defensive section for Valencia and they played a huge role in the team's defensive improvements.

Given the added UEFA Champions League matches, the addition of Diakhaby from Lyon means the team now has four capable centre-backs and will give Marcelino the option to play 3 at the back if need be.

Valencia v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre-Season Friendly
Piccini (right) is expected to plug the leaks at right-back

Youth team products Toni Lato and Jose Gaya were brilliant as the team's left fullbacks. Their pace and crossing from the left flank was a prominent feature of the team's attacking play last season and the same is expected in the 2018/2019 instalment.

The right-back position was a big problem for the team last season. Piccini had been brought in to fill that hole and he is expected to do way better than Martin Montoya who has moved on to Brighton and Hove.

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Midfield is the team's strength

The team's midfield was its main strength last season and it is expected to continue as well. Club captain Dani Parejo had probably his best season since he joined from Real Madrid as his passing, control of the game and leadership went up a notch.

These improvements were no doubt helped by the presence of Kondogbia besides the freshly minted Spanish international. The Frenchman added skill, power and defensive nous to the team's midfield and is expected to continue in the same vein.

Spanish U-21 international Carlos Soler had another very good season and will offer intelligence and work rate as a compliment for Parejo and Kondogbia.

Leicester City v Valencia - Pre-Season Friendly
Kondogbia (right) is expected to continue his stellar work

Francis Coquelin made a good impression following his from Arsenal but a serious knee injury meant that he missed a huge chunk of the season. The addition of Uros Racic and Daniel Wass this season has given the team more depth in the middle and depending on injuries and form; the midfield looks strong enough to help the team secure 4th place once again.

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The goals will flow

Los Che were the third highest goalscorers; (behind the El Clasico pair of champions Barcelona and Real Madrid) in the league last season and more of the same should be expected in the 2018/2019 campaign.

Rodrigo Moreno is the jewel in Valencia’s attacking play and will be spearheading the team’s attack again (that is if rumours about Real Madrid offering €100m for its former Cantera product prove to be false).

The Spanish international’s pace, razor-sharp finishing, and aerial ability helped him get 16 goals last season and fans of Los Murciélagos (The Bats) will be praying that he is still at the Estadio Mestalla when the transfer window shuts on August 31st.

Valencia v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre-Season Friendly
Valencia fans will be desperate to keep Rodrigo

Another of last season’s attacking threats; Simone Zaza is expected to leave this club this window given the surfeit of strikers in the team. Young Spaniard Santi Mina had his best season in a Valencia shirt as manager Marcelino was able to coax consistent performances from the 21-year-old who had a reputation for flakiness.

He is expected to start on the flanks or come off the bench which means one of new signing Gameiro or the “bat in the Bat Cave” Michy Batshuayi (on loan from Chelsea) will partner Rodrigo. Both players are good goalscorers who also work hard for the team and will put in a shift up front.

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The future of Goncalo Guedes is still up in the air. The PSG winger wants to return to Valencia permanently but the French champions are asking for a fee that Valencia is unwilling/unable to pay. His electric displays down the flanks and combination with Rodrigo is one that Valencianistas would love to see again this season.

Youth, tactics and what to expect from Marcelino’s men

Valencia has a proud history of providing a platform for youngsters to strut their stuff (this is the club that has produced the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata, Isco, Jordi Alba, Gaizka Mendieta amongst others).

This is expected to continue in the 2018/2019 season as Spanish prodigy Ferran Torres and South Korean prospect Kang In Lee are expected to be the latest graduates of the Valencia Cantera system to become bonafide top level ballers.

Last season, Marcelino’s men were among the most energetic in La Liga playing a high pressing, always-in-motion style that left a lot of opponents feeling dizzy. That is expected to be slightly modified this season given the extra games from the UCL.

The 4-3-1-2 formation worked well last season and this season may see the same with slight variations from game to game.

Kondogbia is a key man in Marcelino
Kondogbia is a key man in Marcelino's formation
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While Valencia now has quality in the First XI and on the bench, it will take a meltdown of epic proportions for them to beat last season’s top 3; FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to the La Liga title.

A favourable group in the early stages of the UCL would be of immense benefit to Valencia and they could go as far as the quarter-finals if they are lucky.

Prediction (La Liga): 4th

Prediction (UCL): Quarterfinals

Published 17 Aug 2018, 16:52 IST
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