Upon Ernesto Valverde's appointment, Johan Cruyff labelled him as: “one of the most prominent and promising coaches in all of Spain.” Approaching two months in the job at Mestalla, the 48-year old already has the club moving in the right direction ahead of part two of the Valencia and Real Madrid trilogy.
Under Mauricio Pellegrino, Los Che were struggling to fulfil their potential and, languishing in La Liga, they had managed just two clean sheets in their opening 14 League games – Valverde has already secured two in his first five Primera outings.
Additionally, in all competitions he has won six out of eight matches – scoring 13 and conceding seven – and the feel good factor appears to be seeping back into a side who have risen to seventh in the table, four points off a Champions League spot and seven behind Sunday's visitors Los Blancos.
The changes are so far subtle, yet effective. In Greece, as Coach of Olympiacos, Valverde's style was noted as one which pressed high up the pitch and was very good defensively. Valencia fans are already seeing a team who exert more control and are capable of maintained pressure. For too long, too many of their games had been end-to-end – not least Pellegrino's last in charge, a 5-2 defeat to Real Sociedad.
Ricardo Costa has already spoken of how: “[Valverde] has changed the team's personality and attitude on the field, the philosophy of play, the pressure and we play together.” The Portuguese defender continued by saying: “we now know when to pressurise or when to pull-back.”
His comments reinforced those of the Brazilian forward Jonas, who talked of a 'consistency which we did not have before'. Neither particularly significant comments in isolation, but both highly significant in showing that Los Che’s squad is pulling together in the right direction under their new boss.
Signs of the burgeoning positivity building in Valencia were relevant at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night, although as they lost 2-0 they also displayed signs that there is still plenty to work on if they want to topple teams like Real Betis and Malaga in the Champions League race.
Valverde is not getting carried away and acknowledged his team's downfalls immediately after the midweek defeat, quick to point out: “we played well, but we should have scored a goal or more. We had chances, but were not clinical enough – that is what hurts.”
If he can improve the attacking nature of his side – the rumoured signing of Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas would help – like he has thus far improved the defending and the control his side have in games, then the notoriously hard-to-please fans at Mestalla may start to believe that this isn't just a honeymoon period but possibly the start of their so far up-and-down season.
At Villarreal he was sacked half-way through the season, but at Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Olympiacos he proved successful. Beat a Real Madrid side this weekend, who in La Liga terms are on the rocks, and Johan Cruyff's comments will continue to look extremely astute.