Eurowatch: Valencia 0, Real Sociedad 0

Eurowatch: Valencia 0, Real Sociedad 0

Yokerbhoy files his report, and lifts our hopes ahead of Thursdays match
Campeonato de La Liga Española         Estadio de Mestalla             10th February, 2019
Valencia 0 Real Sociedad 0
Me cago en la leche, ¡vaya chasco que se han llevado los blancos al no encontrar portería!
On a sunny and windy afternoon in Valencia, an enthusiastic crowd of just under 39,000 turned out at Mestalla stadium riding high on some excellent recent performances and results. Their opponent, la Real Sociedad, have been enjoying quite a successful season with an impressive run of 7 unbeaten games and find themselves in the top half of the table challenging for a place in Europe. Their two main references are midfield playmaker and captain Asier Illarramendi (a Spain international who was sold from R. Sociedad to R. Madrid for €39M in 2013 and re-bought by the Basque club two years later for a cut price €18M) and their 21 year old forward Mikel Oyarzabal.
Marcelino, the Valencia manager, sprung a couple of surprises in the selection of his starting XI, adding a bit of steel to his central midfield with the introduction of Frenchman Geoffrey Kondogbia (an effective physical player who represents an aerial threat although a bit indecisive and awkward when in possession at times) and resting talisman forward Rodrigo Moreno while providing an opportunity for the recently in-form French striker Kevin Gameiro. There was also a forced change as regular starter Gabriel Paulista, a ball-playing centre-back. suffered a thigh strain during training (making him a doubt to start against us on Thursday) with new loan signing from Celta de Vigo, veteran Argentinian international Facundo Roncaglia, comfortably slotting in.
The game started very brightly, in fact the first 20 minutes or so were played at a breakneck pace, with Real Sociedad obtaining most of the possession and, far from being overawed by the hostile atmosphere and current form of their rivals, living up to their reputation as a robust but effective team of scrappers, they got stuck right in and gave Valencia’s more creative players such as Parejo and Gayà, very little space. After that, some slack passing and positional errors from both sides started to creep in and, other than the odd flash of brilliance from both midfield generals Illarrmendi and Parejo, the game was beginning to lose its sparkle. In the closing stages before the interval, however, there were a couple of half chances created by the home team, the best of which was a superb cross ball delivered by Parejo from the right and met by Kondogbia, whose powerful header was too close to Real’s Argentinian goalie Gerónimo Rulli. The Donostiarra side’s system of tight man-marking and general lack of elegance in their play was adversely affecting the game as a spectacle with very little in the way of flow and clear-cut chances, leaving both keepers with precius little to do.
In the second half, however, the Basques began to show clear signs of tiring and this manifested itself with some shocking defensive errors, giving the ball away cheaply in midfield and leaving far too much space to los chés on both flanks. Piccini. whose lack of footballing finesse and imagination is compensated by an endless supply of tireless energy, had a couple of marauding runs down the right wing, delivering a couple of decent balls into the box but with no takers. It was down the other flank though that Marcellino’s outfit had more joy, with Denis Chéryshev and José Luis Gayà combining extremely well on three or four occasions to create danger. By this time the hard-working but largely ineffective Santi Mina had been taken off to be replaced by Rodrigo Moreno, whose movement with and without the ball caused real problems for the San Sebastián team. In addition, Gameiro started to come alive and seemed to thrive on the extra space created by Moreno’s presence and, inevitably, the scoring opportunities began to appear thick and fast. Moreno had a couple of decent shots blocked by Rulli while Gameiro forced him into an excellent save from a close-range header. The best chance of all fell to the Frenchman when he latched onto a through ball which put him into a scoring position in the right-hand side of the 18 yard box but instead elected to go for a cross, which was badly overhit. Chéryshev had put in a great shift but was starting to tire as the game entered its final fifteen minutes, with Portuguese sensation Guedes, who had been out injured for 2 months, entering the fray. He didn’t make a great deal of impact to tell the truth with his only significant contribution being a great turn with the ball into space on the left and a fine delivery into the box which marginally eluded Gameiro.
The Basque side were under the cosh for the lion’s share of the second half and were desperately hanging on for dear life. Fatigue set in for Valencia during the last 10 minutes of the game, giving Real a new lease of life as they started to press forward inistently, but any openings they tried to carve out were generally well dealt with by a highly competent and well-organised central defence and, just as in the first half, Neto didn’t have any important save to make. So, in the end, a frustrating goalless draw for the chés.
Observations:
Early in this match, Valencia looked more than a little uncomfortable with the Basque side really in their faces from the off, often crowding them out in midfield. When given more space after half-time, however, they showed just how dangerous they can be with non-stop one-way traffic but miraculously no goals came about. Recently the Whites have produced very strong finishes to come out on top in the final stages of key league and cup games. Marcellino once again demonstrated his propensity to rotate his squad more than any other manager in La Liga. He likes to rest players and keep rival managers guessing. During their successful campaign in La Copa del Rey, in the same way as Celtic fielded Scott Bain for every League Cup fixture this season, Valencia have used second choice goalkeeper Jaume Dómenech in every single tie. Although decent, he has a fiery temperament and is not really in the same class as Neto. I’m fairly sure Marcellino will select the Brazilian on Thursday. I have also observed that Carlos Soler, their right-sided midfielder. has been pretty ineffective of late but is usually a first pick. Sometimes Danish utility man Daniel Waas, who can also play right back or central midfield, gets the nod. The Dane is a decent grafter but doesn’t bring anything special to the side (I personally feel that teenager Ferrán Torres is their best current option in this position) while the most interesting potential change to their set-up when they come up against us could be the re-introduction of €40m left-sided midfielder/winger Gonçalo Guedes. Although Russian Chéryshev has been great in the last couple of games, a real workhorse with much more skill than many give him credit for, the temptation of using the gifted Portuguese wide player might just prove to be too much. Now I haven’t seen much of Guedes myself but quite a few Valencia supporters I’ve spoken to have raved about him claiming that he is arguably the best natural talent to come out of Portugal since C. Ronaldo. This is a player who, during the early part of his tenure here, had the entire crowd on their feet before a pass even reached him for fear of missing something sensational. Since then though, his form plummeted and then he got injured so we don’t really know what to expect. Finally, Roncaglia deputised for the injured Gabriel Paulista, and looked very solid and polished, repeatedly receiving applauses from the home support during the game.
Conclusions
After being on the crest of a wave, Valencia came back down to earth after yesterday’s disappointment. They continue to show that they are a strong and classy side all over the field with three quality free-scoring strikers, a superbly talented midfield playmaker and a very competent defensive unit. Galician Forward Santi Mina is a very hard-worker and represents an aerial threat but I’m inclined to believe that Marcelino will go for the more sublime, highly mobile and in-form strike combination of Moreno and Gameiro. In midfield Parejo calls the shots so we badly hope that Broonie will be up to the task of keeping him under wraps. I have already seen that he can be marked out of a game and he often seems to drift in and out of matches but the danger he represents will always be there. One of the best strikers of the ball in La Liga, we definitely don’t want to be conceding too many free kicks in dangerous positions. Their defence, while unquestionably competent and focussed, at times seem a bit out of sorts when dangerous cross balls come into their box.
Valencia are very good, make no mistake, but they certainly aren’t unbeatable. They are no Barça, PSG or R Madrid. We need to be right down their throats from the beginning and hit them with a flurry of pressure, Roared on by a full house at Paradise, I think we can knock them off their stride and rattle them. There has to be maximum caution, tightness and cohesion at the back throughout the encounter as any lapse of concentration in that area, no matter how slight, could be seriously punished. Whatever happens, we absolutely must establish some kind of lead after the first leg as I believe that even a draw will be of little use to take to Mestalla.
Valencia’s line-up for yesterday’s game:
(4-4-2)
Neto
Piccini Garay Roncaglia Gayà
Soler Parejo Kondogbia Chéryshev
Mina Gameiro
Subs used: Coquelin for Kondogbia, Moreno for Mina and Guedes for Chéryshev
Brief round-up of recent cup games.
In the quarter final of La Copa del Rey, los Chés were drawn against Getafe, a very handy wee side that had knocked out Athletico Madrid in the previous round. After a very hard fought tussle in the first leg, the Madrid outfit ran out 1-0 winners. In the return leg at Mestalla, Getafe hit the home team with a sucker punch breakaway goal in the very first minute and managed to hold on to their two-nil aggregate lead until the final quarter. Valencia then proceeded to demonstrate just how deadly they can be during the later stages of a game by firing in three spectacular goals, two of which were scored in injury time. It was a superb hat-trick from Moreno with another ‘goal’ from Gameiro chalked off for being marginally off-side by the VAR.
The Benito Villamarín Stadium in Seville (which will also be the venue for the final whoever gets there) was the setting for the first leg of the semi against Real Betis last Thursday night. The whole place was bathed in gorgeous green and white colours as a fanatically partisan crowd (La Pasión Bética) hailed their heroes with a deafening din. The attendance was over 57,000, more than Betis had had for decades. A highly attractive and competitive game ensued, featuring a fascinating midfield duel between Valencia’s Dani Parejo and the ingenious veteran Sergio Canales, with both men oozing quality. A very evenly fought contest saw Betis take the lead with a wonderful rehearsed move which started out wide and ended up in the back of the net from a powerful Lauren header. Early in the second half it seemed that things couldn’t get any better for the home side as the evergreen Joaquín scored directly from a spectacular corner kick. Everything changed drastically, however, as once again Valencia came back from the dead with a fine finish from Chéryshev after an excellent assist from Gameiro with the Frenchman getting on the scoresheet himself, comfortably slotting the ball into the corner from just inside the box in the closing minutes. With those two away goals, the Chés are now favourites to progress into the final where they will meet either Real Madrid or Barcelona.