Despite two recent back-to-back defeats, the winds remain fair for Valencia, indicating that progress is being made.The contest against Atlético Madrid was almost the ideal match, with the game plan of Rubén Baraja working to perfection. Four of the team’s players (Gayà, Fran Pérez, Mosquera, and Guerra) had come up through the club’s academy. With Nules-born Sergi Canós and Dènia native Pepelu in the starting eleven, it felt like we had players and a manager who recognized the importance of playing for the badge. The youthful enthusiasm of the majority of the players, coupled with the experience of players like Gayà and Diakhaby, created a strong blend. With Hugo Duro finding his scoring boots again, the Valencia faithful were bullish about securing a victory.
Valencia came flying out of the stalls and took the lead against Diego Simeone’s men within five minutes. Canós threatened down the left side, and his deflected cross arrived at the feet of Hugo Duro. Somehow the striker, who was born in the Madrid barrio of Getafe, managed to scoop his leg around the ball at the strangest of angles and beat the Atlético keeper Jan Oblak at his near post.
Los Che and Duro doubled their lead on the half-hour mark. Pepelu won the ball in Valencia’s own half and fed it to Fran Pérez. The Rafelbuñol winger went on a purposeful run before sliding a ball for Duro to run onto.
Duro’s confidence was evident as he skillfully evaded an advancing Atlético defender and beat Oblak, once again, to send the Mestalla into a frenzy of noise, typically reserved for the March fireworks at the Fallas festival.
With the fans urging the team not to sit back, Valencia created more chances, but they went into halftime with a well-deserved lead. The first few minutes of the second half belonged to Atlético as they looked to reduce the deficit, but the game was effectively over when Javi Guerra scored Valencia’s third.
Just outside the area, the Gilet-born talisman toyed with the Atlético defence before making room to get off a shot on Oblak’s goal. The curling effort was placed just outside the reach of the Slovenian international but inside his left-hand post.
Javi Guerra, along with Duro, is currently Valencia’s top scorer, and his performances in September earned him nominations for the EA Sports La Liga Under 23 Player of the Month and Best Goal of the Month awards for his scores against Atlético.
Marmardshvilli was called into action towards the end of the game and made a couple of good saves to maintain Valencia’s clean sheet. While it will be challenging to beat this team performance throughout the season, even achieving it a few times will give the Valencia fans much to cheer about.
The next match was at the Power Horse Stadium against Almería. The ‘Almeriensistas’ had started poorly and were at the bottom of the table coming into the match.
Once again, Valencia played with style and confidence, taking the lead through Diego López early in the first half. Almería responded well, and Marmardshvilli made at least three good saves to ensure Valencia went into halftime with a narrow lead.
Almería deservedly equalized through Sergio Arribas just before the hour mark. Valencia regained the lead four minutes later, again through Javi Guerra. He combined well with Fran Pérez to score from inside the Almería penalty area.
However, Valencia’s lack of concentration saw them concede a second goal shortly after, with Arribas doubling his goal tally. Both teams had chances in the final 15 minutes, but Valencia came away with a draw and another point in the league total.
The following two matches saw Valencia face some challenges. They suffered a 1-0 home defeat to a talented Real Sociedad team and a three-goal loss in Sevilla at Real Betis. These setbacks may have tempered the fans’ enthusiasm, but the signs indicate that the team is evolving. Baraja’s task is to deliver performances like the one against Atlético consistently and eliminate matches like the one against Betis. Additionally, he needs to protect the young players from fatigue and burnout, which may be the hardest aspect of his job.
Concerningly, Jesús Vázquez recently required hospital treatment for tiredness and fatigue. Tests revealed that he had developed a type of “neuromotor” disorder, but he has since recovered and is expected to be available to play again in the near future.
Meanwhile, Levante UD continues to occupy a place near the top of the table in their league. Although they suffered a 4-1 defeat at home to a strong Español team, they have since steadied the ship with wins at Alcorcón and at home to Eldenese. Moreover, in their most recent game, they earned a point against community rivals Elche.
After eight games, the top of the Spanish Division Two is incredibly tight, with the top ten teams separated by just six points. The league resembles the English Championship, where any team seems capable of beating their counterparts on any given day.
Report by John Howden
Article copyright ’24/7 Valencia’
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