Valencia are coming off the back of two woeful seasons, but the bad times could be coming to an end.
With only domestic competitions to worry about and a lot of new signings having arrived, Valencia could be a surprise package in La Liga this season. They could return to where they belong, in the Champions League. Since qualifying for the Champions league in 2015, Valencia have been on a downward spiral finishing in 12th in consecutive seasons.
However, they are seemingly refusing to let that bother them, starting the season in a bright fashion. They showed what they were capable of at times last season, most notably taking eight points from four games against the top two.
But they struggled for consistency, winning just one of their first seven home games and two of their first nine away games.
They look to be different this season already, as new coach Marcelino has instilled a new life into some old players and some new players. He favours a standard 4-4-2 formation, which allows Geoffrey Kondogbia to screen the back four and Dani Parejo to be creative in the final third. This also means the two young wide men Carlos Soler and Jose Gaya can express themselves whilst being fresh to track back and help their full backs.
At the weekend Valencia faced Real Madrid in a tough second game after an opening day win against Las Palmas. To almost everyone, the game was over before it had begun as Madrid looked certain to grab all three points.
However, when new loan signing Kondogbia slammed home from just inside the box to give Valencia a 2-1 lead at the Bernabeu, it signalled a ruthlessness and cutting edge they have been missing for the past two seasons.
They defended strongly and hit Madrid on the break, taking advantage of two very good opportunities to equalise through Soler and take the lead through Kondogbia. They would eventually only go on to draw 2-2 as Marco Asensio scored again, but a draw away to the champions is nothing to be disappointed about.
Could this be the start of something for Valencia this season? Certainly. There is no confidence boost like taking points away from the current champions and best team in Europe, at their own stomping ground too.
They look more comfortable under new boss Marcelino already, and look stronger defensively. Marcelino led Villarreal to fourth spot in his final season just two seasons ago, and he would love to do the same in his first season with Valencia.
It’s unlikely any team will finish third or above with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid being the three who will occupy the first three spots. Therefore, it is a battle between Valencia, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal for fourth spot, the final Champions League spot, depending on a two-legged qualifier.
This season, despite having mentioned that they’ve finished 12th in the past two seasons, Valencia could be the dark horses for fourth place in Spain.
Last season, Valencia conceded a massive 65 goals.
To put that into perspective, apart from the three relegated sides, only Celta Vigo and Las Palmas conceded more. Additionally, Celta fielded a second string side for some of the second half of the season to concentrate on the Europa League, suggesting they could have conceded less than Valencia with a stronger 11.
Marcelino will be looking at strengthening their backline, and the arrivals of Gabriel and Kondogbia will certainly help them defend better.
Kondogbia could play a crucial part in Valencia’s season. Although he has only signed on loan, an option to buy at the end of the season may well be activated if he performs as well as he did against Real Madrid on a regular basis.
Kondogbia knows his defensive responsibilities but his technical ability must not be underestimated. He will play an important role in screening the back four, but he can transition the ball from midfield into attacking positions, a skill which is rare for a destroyer type midfielder.
It may have only been two games, but Valencia could certainly be challengers for the fourth spot, as the club begins to finally move back in a positive direction.Published 31 Aug 2017, 12:38 IST