The 2014-15 season can be counted as a successful one for Valencia as they sealed a finish in the Champions League places. A potentially tricky playoff still has to be overcome but Hamoudi Fayad has a look at the factors that could mean a return to the glory days for the Spanish side.
The project is in motion. Reinforcements have been made. It is time for Valencianismo to return on a high.
“I feel very happy and I strongly identify with Valencianismo”, expressed Real Madrid youth product and current captain Dani Parejo who had just put pen to paper with Los Che: “This is what I wanted”.
Nuno Espirito Santo seems to be getting his wheels in motion to upset the apple cart in the UEFA Champions League, with a two-legged play-off match on the horizon. A 4-1 drubbing to Bayern Munich excluded, Valencia have been producing solid displays in their pre-season and will look to take the next step this season – to return to the competition that broke their hearts at the turn of the century: the Champions League.
6 months from now, the Spanish football scene changes. Real Madrid and Barcelona will no longer triumph easily with a chunk of income generated through individually negotiating their television rights; under the new legislation the law takes care of all.
Sure, Real Madrid and Barcelona won’t earn a euro less than they’ve earned in the previous season (€140,000,000 each) however the rights will now be sold collectively amongst the top two divisions. This will help clubs in the mould of Atletico Madrid (who as 2013/14 champions earned €30,000,000 less than Cardiff City, relegated from the Premier League), Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, and most pertinently in terms of this article, Valencia.
Time will tell how significantly this legislation affects the scenery of Spanish football as it looks to establish parity over economic dominance from two of the biggest and most popular clubs in world football. A chance for Valencia to return to the glory days, possibly?
In a recent article that was part of the Tactical Philosophy series on this website, I wrote about Nuno Santo, I explained in minute detail about how Valencia functioned in the previous season in all phases of the game in different zones on the pitch.
A versatile team, capable of excelling in many different situations; their play can range from broad, attacking and an open style of play to an organised, tactful and conservative performance looking to suck the opposition out to the flanks before performing their trademark counter attack.
Looking at their pre-season, much of their play has been built on the same morals. The fact that Negredo and Rodrigo are staying will prove to be a positive for Nuno as both of them can create synergies with Pablo Piatti and Jose Gaya. The latter – who acts as an anarchic winger for the most part – is a brilliant outlet on the left with pinpoint crosses provided by his curling left foot. Pablo Piatti cuts in from the left wing, popping up in pockets of space all over the pitch with a knack for scoring and creating with a dazzling left foot, which is probably why he is nicknamed “Messi de la Plata” (he is a product of Estudiantes de la Plata’s youth academy).
Above, Piatti moves to the right flank (with Barragan characteristically behind him for support) and curls in a cross to Negredo – just onside – who is occupying the central defender, of whom is unconventionally displaced from Southampton’s back 4. This creates a large space on the edge of the 18-yard box, space for the hunting Rodrigo to move into.
This is the significance of a traditional number 9, as with his movement he drags away the defender and this situations is created from such movements:
Negredo breaks in between the two defenders, lays off the ball for Rodrigo in space who connects only to be denied by the deflection of the opposing player sending the ball out for a corner in the process. Thus, we can see the technical importance that Negredo’s style of play brings to Valencia, a rather different dimension to the already visible link-up play brought with the intelligent poaching of Paco Alcacer. Rodrigo, although not an out and out striker, feeds off scraps and creates goalscoring situations through movements, take-ons and combination play.
Nuno’s versatility in picking a certain distribution of players onto the pitch can be valuable in this situation, where adaptability to specific teams and stadiums in different competitions with various choices of player selection according to their capabilities on the pitch – mentally, physically, technically and tactically – will be a significant merit. However, a large amount of shuffling will result in differences across the pitch regardless of the style of play. Andre Gomes is an exemplar of this, having played on the left of midfield, central attacking midfield and in the pivot over the course of the 2014/15 season.
Mathew Ryan has been brought in as back up to Diego Alves, and that is a superb signing in terms of goalkeeper distribution and technical ability. As I mentioned in the ‘Tactical Philosophy’ episode, Valencia rely on their goalkeeper and center backs to get the ball to the strikers if the situation is suitable; and Ryan is one of the best in that field.
His technique of slicing the ball with precision and adjusted power to wingers in space or directly towards target men has been fine tuned to becoming a one man counter attack, with late kicks in the game capable of leaving his teammates overloaded against the opposition in a valuable counter attack; an aspect Valencia dominate in.
Moving forward, I believed that quality was needed to replace Antonio Barragan and Javi Fuego. These two were solid and reliable for Valencia last season, providing energy and consistent circulation respectively. In comes the young Joao Cancelo permanently, looking to take the mantle from Barragan soon while Danilo has been loaned in from Braga. Now it is not yet clarified where Danilo will operate, but with Dani Parejo invaluable to the team and Enzo Perez cementing his place into the first team it looks like Danilo will play in a central midfield trio.
Danilo, 19, is versatile and can bring forth a variety of options. To best describe his ability, I’ll borrow an excerpt from my review of his performance in the U-20 World Cup Final:
“The captain of the team, the general of the force. What is it that he did NOT do? A brilliant outlet from deep, akin to a deep-lying playmaker. A constant menace and eager to win the ball back, akin to a ball winning midfielder. Taking on men and tracking back quickly to defend as soon as his team lost the ball, akin to a box to box midfielder. An occasion such as is this demanded a captain’s performance, and Danilo provided just that. This performance was almost perfect, one of the factors that helped him win the Silver Ball, despite not doing enough to achieve the Golden Ball.”
Santi Mina’s arrival from Celta Vigo looks a promising signing, one who will seamlessly adapt to Nuno’s foremost principle: intensity. Playing under Berizzo at Celta is an experience enough to guide you through the paces of the modern day phenomena centred around the art of pressing, counter pressing and more variations of it.
Mina is a multifaceted player who has grown in muscle mass over the last couple of years, heavily involving himself in the fitness scene and patiently awaiting his chance at Celta. Luis Enrique handed him his chance to shine, with 12 starts a modest number for a breakthrough player. Able to excel from up top or shift to the right of the 4-2-3-1 as a winger, his growth has been largely thanks to two attacking-based managers in Luis Enrique and Eduardo Berizzo. With Nuno, he can move forward and thrive in transitional situations.
All in all, Valencia are bringing a more youthful look to their side, with the average age of their squad at 24.5 according to transfermarkt.com.
Key Players to take them forward
The vibrant left back in Jose Gaya is a sterling attacking option for Valencia and will definitely be one to watch out for next season. The departure of Bernat seems to be dismissed by the Valencianistes, of whom believe that Gaya is the future of the club. Negredo’s experience in the Premier League and La Liga will prove worthy in tough times and run of form in the domestic and continental competitions. His physical presence as a true number 9 aided by his underrated technical ability will be invaluable to Valencia breaking down deep defences. Finally, El Capitano, Dani Parejo. He defines the heart of the team, resembling a sort of Spanish Steven Gerrard for Valencia: a tenacious, technical set-piece specialist with an eye for goal.
Written by Hamoudi Fayad
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