It looked like a pre-season friendly, a game of little or no relevance, with both coaches opting to rest most of their senior players and give their second-tier players some game time. But, as a Valencia supporter I have to admit that the return leg of the Valencia v Barca cup tie was far more interesting and entertaining than I had expected. No, los che didn’t win, and certainly should have.
But the game had a number of positives, and in this season, the worst I can remember, we have to seize the positives whenever they appear.
The biggest positive was the attitude and endeavour of the players. There was a real desire, a real hunger, so often missing in past games. You could see this particularly in what some coaches call the “one-percenters.” Not the magnificent long-range goals or tricky dribbling past three defenders, but the little things that probably won’t win the game, but will certainly make it difficult for the opposition to win.
Things like running back to chase an opposition pass back to the keeper. Yes, the keeper is going to get the ball, but unless he is under pressure, he isn’t going to make a mistake. It was good to see forwards running towards Ter Stegen to force him to kick quickly.
Another of these “one-percenters” was that players were willing to chase stray passes. Too often in previous games we’ve seen a player give up on a misdirected pass, and instead of trying to recover the ball, he’s been happy to see it go out of play – at the cost of an opposition throw in.
The attitude in this game was completely different. Players like Santi Mina, Pablo Piatti, and Fran Villalba ran and ran. Perhaps these actions don’t win games, but teams who don’t do these things certainly lose games. I suppose Jose Gaya could be forgiven for not chasing the ball after a handball infringement, and stood there gesticulating while the ball made its way down to the other end of the field. Yes, it was an obvious handball, but the only person who didn’t think so was the guy with the whistle. Play the whistle, Jose.
The other big positive; Fran Villalba. The seventeen year old was outstanding in the centre attacking midfield area, with his work rate and ability to feed those around him.
He even had a couple of shots himself, although neither really bothered the keeper. Gary Neville was so happy with him when he came off after 80 minutes, he almost kissed him. Unfortunately, his replacement’s debut was less auspicious. Ibán Salvador Edu’s only real contribution was to pick up a yellow card. Perhaps we should just put this down to a youthful rush of blood?
But Villalba so impressed the board that Superdeporte reports that the club is looking to keep him at the Mestalla with a buyout clause of 4 million euros. Probably a wise move; no one wants to see Valencia return to the recent bad old days when the club was merely a factory producing players for other teams. The names Mata, Villa and Silva come to mind. Still, Villalba is only seventeen, and one good game doesn’t make a champion player.
Perhaps it seems a little odd that I include the single Valencia goal in this list of positives almost as an afterthought, but as far as Valencia’s future is concerned, it didn’t mean much. While it was good to see Alvaro Negredo score, the fact is he very nearly screwed up a one-on-one with Ter Stegen. He initially kicked the ball into the keeper, but fortunately the ball was deflected to his left, and he recovered and tapped it in.
But on around the 52 minute mark, Negredo, along with Santi Mina and Piatti, produced possibly the single best phase of attacking football we’ve seen this season. The two forwards combined sublimely to deliver the ball to Piatti, whose shot was unfortunately stopped by Ter Stegen. It’s when play like that goes unrewarded that players really have to show their character, and move on.
Yes, there were negatives. The team should have scored three goals instead of one, playing a second-string Barcelona. They picked up four yellow cards. Not so bad in itself, but perhaps indicative of the lack of discipline the team displays at times. There was a loss in concentration that directly led to the Barcelona goal, something that also occurred at times last season. But the team played plenty of good, fast, attractive, attacking football, which is what we had come to expect, and what, until this season at least, they have been best at. Perhaps I’m guilty of viewing things through rose tinted – or rather, orange tinted – glasses, but as I wrote earlier, there haven’t been too many positives this season, so we have to focus on what positives we have. I’m at least more optimistic about Saturday’s game against Espanyol than I was about the Betis match.