Since Unai Emery’s messy resignation last season, Mauricio Pellegrino has had trouble in succeeding the unpopular manager at Valencia. Having led the team to a hat-trick of Champions League qualifications in La Liga, Emery’s time at Los Che came to a sad ending and was ultimately forced out amid constant financial constraints and a perceived lack of improvement. Despite a Europa League semi-final last year, it was deemed that another coach would have to continue from where Emery left off.
Of Argentine nationality, Pellegrino hails from the same country as Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa, and the two came together for the first time on Saturday night as their teams faced off. In similar positions in the table, a win was desperately required for both teams to flee the nearby relegation zone. For a large amount of the game it seemed that Bilbao would walk away from the Mestalla with three points and condemn Pellegrino to his fourth defeat of the season but the Basque side crumbled in the final minutes.
Tino Costa equalised on 88 minutes and Nelson Valdez stole the points in stoppage time to turn a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory. Valdez’ goal sparked wild celebrations along the Valencian bench and in amongst the stands. To emphasise how important the goal may be, not just to the under fire manager but to the team is difficult considering the season is only 8 games old. In an instant, defeat turned into a victory and echoed a positive vibe around the town which will no doubt carry through to the Champions League game in midweek.
As Rafael Benitez’ assistant at Liverpool, it is clear to see that the Valencia comeback had shades of the Merseyside team’s more famous encounters. From his time in the English game, one of Pellegrino’s underlying characteristics is his undying passion to win matches, dissatisfied with a draw. It has been 10 games since Valencia’s last stalemate.
Since that 3-3 draw with Deportivo at home, Pellegrino’s focus has been distracted by the defence. Having lost Jordi Alba to Barcelona in the summer, Pellegrino has embedded Frenchman Aly Cissokho in at left-back and Joao Perreira on the opposite side. Adil Ramis and Victor Ruiz remain but it has taken conservative tactics to ready the team for the rest of the season, perhaps an explanation as to why Roberto Soldado has just three goals this season.
As a result of Pellegrino’s winning mentality, the team has ended games with either a victory or defeat. Despite this Valencia have conceded just five goals since then so his strategy is working if not at the pace he’d prefer. Goals on the other hand have been difficult to come by. A disappointing 1-0 defeat to local rivals Levante portrayed the ineffectiveness of the tactics Pellegrino is using in an attacking sense.
Instead of Soldado Valencia have relied upon Jonas and Feghouli to provide the goals. Playing in such a system that strangles the star players will ultimately result in a desire to leave the Mestalla for Soldado and Valencia cannot risk that. Contrary to the system Pellegrino is adopting, fans were unhappy with Emery for similar reasons. They wanted to see their club dominate teams in the way that Madrid and Barcelona do. Achieving three consecutive Champions League finishes meant that along the way teams would be pushed aside by a rampant Soldado.
Unrest is beginning to kick in at the club amidst the change in results. Whether or not Pellegrino stays as manager, regardless of his obvious improvement at the back, is uncertain. As tough as it would be for a rookie manager to stay at the club, it would be even tougher for the board to stick with him for the remainder of the season if the form continues. Cash-strapped as they are, expectations are and always will be sky-high at Valencia and Pellegrino cannot change those over time.
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