There is no ‘I’ in Valencia even as Primera Liga side rise to third place

They are third-placed in the Primera Liga table despite the absence of standout individuals, writes Andy Mitten.

Valencia’s 4-0 win over Elche last Friday extended their unbeaten run to seven games and, more crucially, lifted them to just four points adrift of Real Madrid in the table. Morell / EPA
Powered by automated translation

As Spain sat and watched a three-way title race last season, Valencia quietly set about restructuring their club and rebuilding their squad.

Against all expectations last week, they broke into that top three by moving ahead of Atletico Madrid into third.

This week, following a 4-0 thumping of Elche, they moved to within four points of Real Madrid, having already beaten the second-placed team this ­season.

A new owner and manager arrived last summer after Valencia failed to qualify for European football for only the second time this century.

Peter Lim is the Singaporean businessman with plans to restore the club to former glories. They still have a €230 million (Dh927.5m) debt, a hangover from their financial meltdown of the recent past, but new staff have been employed from England to increase revenue streams and improve sales of merchandising.

The move to their half-completed new stadium, untouched since 2009, is back on, but Lim first wants to see average crowds rise from 37,747 last season at their 55,000-capacity Mestalla home, which has been spruced up as a short-term measure.

That plan is on target: home crowds are up to 44,889, an increase of 18 per cent. Having a young and winning side that tears into opponents at home helps and no side has a better home record than Valencia in the Primera Liga.

Much credit must go to coach Nuno Espirito Santo, 41, the first client of hugely influential agent Jorge Mendes.

The Portuguese deal maker is close to Lim and brought the manager and several of his best emerging players to the club, including striker Rodrigo, Joao Cancelo and Andre Gomes.

Santo, who recently signed a contract extension to 2018, brought a 28-year-old Scottish assistant manager, Ian Cathro, who he met while doing his Uefa coaching badges. The pair worked successfully in Portugal with Rio Ave.

They have implemented tactical changes, with Valencia employing a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. The five-man midfield, which the charismatic Santo said was concocted as a way of getting both Paco Alcacer and Alvaro Negredo, on loan from Manchester City, in the team, has been ditched.

Goalkeeper Diego Alves has been excellent and even though Valencia continuously sell left-backs, new ones keep popping up.

Jose Luis Gaya, 19, is another local talent reared through the youth system. Linked with Real Madrid, he has played for Spain at every age-level group up to under 19.

Centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi provide power and ball-playing abilities, while Antonio Barragan completes a first-choice back four that has fewer changes to it than any Spanish side this season.

Valencia have a fine young side, albeit one without a standout goalscorer as they had in the recent past with David Villa and Roberto Soldado.

They do not even have a player in the top 10 for assists, while midfielder and captain, Dani Parejo, is their top scorer. He plays alongside Gomes ahead of Javi Fuego, a key defensive midfielder.

With Pablo Piatti on the left and Sofiane Feghouli on the right, Valencia’s central attacking options come from Negredo, Alcacer and Rodrigo.

Their 18 victories from 28 league games have only been bettered by three Valencia managers in their first season. Not playing European football, as they will surely do next season, may have helped.

Valencia go into the international break unbeaten in seven and having registered their best win in two years, that 4-0 victory at neighbouring Elche last ­Friday.

They have been beaten four times – Real Madrid has six ­defeats this season.

Valencia have also beaten champions Atletico, Sevilla and lost by a last-minute goal to Barcelona in November, their only defeat at home. They have lost only once since.

Though this Sunday’s home game against Villarreal will be tough, it will be even tougher for the visitors.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on Twitter @NatSportUAE