Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Valencia showed great spirit, resilience and togetherness in their 2-2 draw against Real Madrid on Sunday evening at Santiago Bernabeu. After the concession of a heart-breaking and decisive goal in the final moments of their Europa League semi-final second leg with Sevilla last Thursday, it would have been easy for Los Che to roll over and tamely surrender to Carlo Ancelotti’s title-chasing charges.
Yet, to their immense credit, the six-time Spanish champions defied all the odds to become only the third team this La Liga season to avoid defeat at the home of their illustrious opponents. The other two? Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Despite having precious little to play for themselves, goals by Jeremy Mathieu and Dani Parejo ensured Valencia twice led in Madrid, with only Cristiano Ronaldo’s audacious stoppage time equaliser denying them a famous victory.
It has however been an immensely frustrating season for Los Che on the whole. While the Europa League run provided relief until it was cruelly ended last week, Pizzi has presided over only a marginal improvement in a highly mediocre and inconsistent domestic campaign since replacing the sacked Miroslav Djukic in December. With two matches remaining this term, what is historically Spain’s fifth most successful club languish in eighth place in the table. Amongst other unwanted statistics, they have tasted defeat on no fewer than 14 occasions [with just 12 wins] and boast a negative goal difference. There is no escaping that it is a poor return for a side who only missed out on the Champions League by one point last season.
Yet there are mitigating circumstances. Valencia, riddled by financial uncertainty in recent years, are a shadow of the club who won two La Liga titles under the leadership of Rafa Benitez a little over a decade ago. While economic recession is hardly a problem confined to Los Che, there is only a certain amount of time for which a club can continuously sell its best players to clear debt and expect to maintain their League position.
Last summer it was Roberto Soldado, the previous year it was Jordi Alba. The year before that saw Juan Mata leave for Chelsea, while both David Silva and David Villa departed in 2010. While Soldado has since failed to hit the heights at Tottenham, the other four players mentioned would go sorely missed from almost any line-up in European football. Perhaps, with this in mind, this is just the season that longer term problems have finally and inevitably caught up with Valencia.
The last four seasons have seen Los Che bank a net total of €88.3m from transfers alone, showing that the overwhelming priority for the club in its recent history has been to balance the books. While it therefore seems that uncertainty off the field cannot be avoided at present, President Amadeo Salvo should be working overtime to ensure the turmoil does not extend to events on it. Continuity is likely to be key, so he would be well advised to try to curb a revolving door policy that has seen a staggering 12 different Coaches take charge at the Mestalla since Benitez departed for Liverpool in 2004.
It has been a bumpy season for Valencia but Pizzi, in his debut season as a European tactician, should be given the opportunity to make amends. Mistakes have been made for sure, but it is now time for Los Che to take a step back, show some patience and allow their Coach to lay some firm and sustainable foundations. The team’s last two performances suggest there is something to work with.