With a new dawn rising as 2024 comes into play, it is time for Valencia Football Club to make a move on three fronts to try and ensure the club has at least a modicum of success this season. The first front is to treat the Copa Del Rey with the respect it deserves and put out a strong team for the trip to Cartagena in the next round. 32 teams remain in the competition and this is the last major trophy Los Che won, when they beat Barcelona 2-1 in 2019 in Sevilla thanks to goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo. Lionel Messi scored the goal for Barcelona. A trip to the final in Seville three years later ended in a narrow loss to Betis. However, the celebrations outside the Mestalla after seeing off Athletic Bilbao in the semi-final and the entourage of fans that went to the final demonstrated just how much this competition means to the supporters.
In the last round Valencia huffed and puffed to see off Arosa SC from the third tier of Spanish football by a solitary goal from the Ukranian Roman Yaremchuk. Next is Cartagena, who should provide stronger opposition despite currently lying at the foot of the Segunda División. An extended run in the Copa Del Rey gives an option of a Europa League group spot for the winners as well as the financially rewarding Supercopa de España, which in recent years has taken place in Saudi Arabia in January. Indeed, strengthening the squad with experience in the January transfer window is the second front Valencia should seriously explore.
The plethora of youngsters playing first team football for Valencia is commendable and the coach Ruben Baraja should be applauded for this, but a need for a creative wise old head in midfield and a goal scorer with a proven track record in LaLiga would add so much to this team that has so much future potential. The third front that Valencia should have as a goal is to have a European spot cemented by the end of the season. Forthcoming fixtures throw up matches that are winnable and a strong January would see the club emerge from a mid-table position to hovering around a qualification place for European competitions next season.
December was a month of mixed fortunes. A frustrating loss to Getafe in South Madrid was tempered by a good fighting draw against Barcelona at the Mestalla and then a victory in the capital against Rayo Vallecano, courtesy of a Sergi Canos goal on the hour mark. Worryingly, the club have not ended their last two away games with eleven players on the pitch, losing Paulista and Javi Guerra before the final whistle in ‘El Coliseum’ and Thierry Correa in the final minutes of the match with Rayo. Stronger discipline against these types of teams needs to be instilled into the squad to prevent further dismissals in future away games, especially.
January started with a local derby against Villarreal. The ‘Yellow Submarine’ have done remarkably well in recent years and remain in Europe after winning their Europa League group that included Rennes (France) Maccabi Haifa (Israel) and Panathinaikos (Greece). By winning their group they miss the first match up with the eight teams who dropped down from the Champions League and re-enter the draw in late February in the last sixteen stage. Their league campaign to date has been underwhelming and it seemed a good time for Los Che to entertain their Northern neighbours.
Valencia were without Diakhaby and Amallah who were representing Guinea and Morocco, respectively, in the Africa Cup of Nations. The hosts started well and dominated the first few minutes of play. It was no surprise when Yaremchuk put Valencia in front after a smart pull back from the bye-line by Gayà found the striker unmarked by the side of the penalty spot. He made no mistake in planting the ball past keeper Jörgensen. Valencia doubled the league on the half hour mark when Pepelu successfully converted a penalty after the referee had adjudged Hugo Duro had been pushed inside the box.
In the last five minutes of the first half, Villarreal had several chances to reduce the arrears but Valencia remained steadfast and went into the interval two goals to the good. The game was put beyond doubt when Pepelu scored a second penalty after an obvious handball by a Villarreal defender. Gerard Moreno got a consolation goal for the visitors late on but it was a clinical performance by Valencia and a great start to the New Year.
Meanwhile, Levante UD ended 2023 outside the play-off spots but still in contention for an automatic promotion. Lying only seven points behind the leaders Leganés after taking three from the last home game versus Huesca, and one point each from the goalless stalemate in Gijon and the 2-2 draw in Zaragoza. At least fifteen clubs have realistic chances of taking one of the top seven places that will either guarantee promotion or give them a play-off chance. So, a team that puts a consistent run together in the second part of the season is highly likely to get one of the three spots up for grabs for LaLiga football next summer.
Finally, on a sad note, news filtered through prior to the Villarreal match that the former Valencia CF favourite Angel Castellanos had passed away at the age of 71. He played nine seasons for the club and three times for Spain. He scored in the penalty shoot-out in the 1980 European Cup Winners Cup against Arsenal after Mario Kempes and Liam Brady had missed their penalties for the respective clubs.
Report by John Howden
Article copyright ‘24/7 Valencia’
Cartagena v Valencia Copa Del Rey 7 Jan 19.00h
Cádiz CF v Valencia 14 Jan 16.15h
Valencia v Athletic Bilbao 20 Jan 18.30h
Atlético Madrid v Valencia CF weekend 28 Jan tbc
Valencia CF v Almeria weekend 4 Feb tbc
Levante UD v Albacete 13 Jan 16.15h
CD Mirandés v Levante UD 21 Jan 16.15h
Levante UD v Tenerife weekend 28 Jan tbc
Espanyol v Levante UD weekend 4 Feb tbc