The scene was set for Valencia in the first week of December . Lionel Messi had scored his 1st goal in 6 matches as Barcelona were held to an entertaining 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid had missed the chance to cut the gap on Barcelona at the top of La Liga as Athletic Bilbao held the champions to a goalless draw at San Mames. Throw in Atletico Madrid’s comeback win against Real Sociedad on Saturday, all eyes were on Valencia, but as ever in football nothing is guaranteed.
Sunday 3rd December: Getafe 1 Valencia 0
Instead, Markel Bergara fired 10-man Getafe to a shock victory over 2nd placed Valencia to leave Barcelona 5 points clear at the top of the Liga table. Very rarely do these opportunities happen in La Liga which makes Valencia’s 1st loss in 16 games all the more exasperating. Even against 10 men they just couldn’t create enough noteworthy chances. Admittedly the shot came off former Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista and sailed over goalkeeper Neto and into the net. The key for me in this game was Valencia missing decisive winger Guedes and defenders Garay and Murillo through injury and coach Marcelino was serving a touchline ban. Guedes, in particular, is electrifying to watch. Fast and forceful he embodies everything Marcelino is known for as a coach with regards to the youth system, a player capped by Portugal when he was 18 years old is a testament to that conviction
My favourite Valencia player, Parejo criticised the poor playing surface “They took the 3 points but if you want to see great football then you can’t play on a pitch like this,” Parejo told reporters. Undoubtedly, the pitch didn’t look great, but other teams can adjust and dig in when it matters late in the game. We have seen this with Manchester City recently. Marcelino eschews the slow build-up of other teams in La Liga and in its place is a very classic view of the game: 4-4-2 and counter as quickly as possible catching the opposition when they’re least prepared. I’ve also heard stories of Marcelino obsessing over the diet of his players and has a reputation of putting a strain on his relationship with his players by being so neurotic. It remains to be seen if his obsessive characteristics can remain a positive influence on the team. If and when it all goes pear-shaped, as ever in Spain he’ll be the first in the firing line.
Saturday 9th December: Valencia 2 Celta Vigo 1
Valencia captain Dani Parejo stepped up to score a late penalty, sealing a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo and moved Marcelino’s men within 2 points of LaLiga leaders Barcelona. The hope remained! Los Che suffered their 1st league loss of the season last week (above), going down 1-0 at Getafe, but they responded with a hard-fought win back on home turf. Simone Zaza was again the man to deliver taking his tally for the season to 10 in the 28th minute when he stole in at the near post to flick Parejo’s corner past a helpless Ruben Blanco. Signs of what was to come next week were still apparent nonetheless when Valencia lost focus and conceded a disjointed equaliser only a minute after the restart. Valencia coach Marcelino, who was back in the dugout following a two-game touchline ban, said: ‘It was a really exciting game. The result is fair because we scored two legal goals but Celta played very well and if they’d drawn we wouldn’t have been able to complain.”
Saturday 16th December: Eibar 2 Valencia 1
The short and unlikely title bid is now all but over. An 8 point gap has developed behind leaders Barcelona with Valencia sitting now in 3rd place following the away defeat at the hands of Eibar. Japanese international Takashi Inui put Eibar ahead in the 49th minute following some calamitous defending by the away side. Again the missing players for Valencia were key, and perhaps a lack of a strong squad is truly why they cannot compete with the big boys. Top scorer Zaza was away through suspension while winger Carlos Soler was injured. Eibar had more than twice as many shots as the visitors did but managed to hit the target only 3 times, and Valencia coach Marcelino felt his side had been hard done by. “The last 2 away games have been tough for us but today I think we played well in the 1st half and didn’t have too many problems in the 2nd half either. What is happening is our opponents have few chances but they are taking them,” he told reporters.
The opponents have indeed taken their chances, albeit few, very well. And with that they’ve taken Valencia’s title hopes.