Awaiting Valencia’s spark

After considerable activity during the close season at Mestalla, a new-look Valencia side under new Coach Mauricio Pellegrino has made an uncertain beginning to the new campaign. They currently languish 15th in La Liga after a third-place finish last season.

Los Che’s first five Primera matches have yielded just five points. An opening day 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu was a creditable achievement, but the remaining points have come in home games against two of the promoted teams, a 3-3 draw with Deportivo La Coruna and a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo.

A 1-0 defeat at Camp Nou was not unexpected against Tito Vilanova’s seemingly unstoppable Barcelona side, but last weekend’s 2-0 reverse at Real Mallorca has raised questions about Pellegrino’s leadership and the quality of some of the players he has brought in.

A charitable analysis might point to the unkindness of the fixture list, with Los Che facing both Real Madrid and Barcelona so early on. There has also been an exacerbation of the much-publicised financial issues at the club, with President Manuel Llorente openly stating that Valencia would need to continue their policy of financing their debts by selling players in order to survive.

The club’s Champions League campaign also began with a defeat, albeit to last season’s runners-up Bayern Munich, in a group where the Spanish side is likely to be vying with French club Lille for the second qualifying spot.

While the losses to Barcelona and Bayern could be plausibly explained by the quality of the opposition, the defeat at the Iberostar Stadium drew an unsurprisingly negative reaction. Pellegrino insisted that his team did enough to win the game – failing only to make the last vital pass to score – but the local media and sections of the club’s fan base are uneasy.

The consensus seems to be that the summer upheaval that saw comings and goings on a grand scale at the Mestalla has resulted in an unbalanced side that has failed to become a cohesive unit, with a midfield that gives the ball away too much and a defence that makes too many ‘childish’ errors, to quote Portuguese defender Joao Pereira.

Pellegrino has admitted that his team’s defensive errors have been costly. He will at least take some solace from his team’s hitherto unbeaten record at Mestalla, but his insistence that he cannot ask for any more from his players will begin to sound shallow should his men slip up on Saturday, when Real Zaragoza are the visitors.

The Coach can also point to a lengthy early-season injury list. David Albelda, Jeremy Mathieu and Pablo Piatti are long-term casualties and central defender Victor Ruiz missed training this week with gastroenteritis. Pellegrino has been boosted, however, by the return to full training of Argentine midfield pair Fernando Gago and Ever Banega.

Gago, who had been tipped to be a central figure in Coach’s plans, has missed the last three games with a neck injury picked up on international duty, while Banega has been out for seven months after a freak car accident at a petrol station. 

Meanwhile, striker Roberto Soldado says he is convinced Los Che will overcome their shaky start. Acknowledging that the team has yet to demonstrate their true potential, the Spanish international is hopeful that the encounter with Zaragoza will see an improvement. “We have only played five games,” he said. “The team has much more to prove after what we have done so far and for sure you will see it on Saturday.”

Following Saturday’s clash with Zaragoza, Lille visit in the Champions League on Tuesday before Valencia travel to city neighbours Levante the following Sunday. Those crucial eight days could either set Valencia’s season back on track or heap further pressure on Pellegrino.