In Matchday 14, there will be a special meeting between Valencia and Celta, a game which pits two of the main heroes of Los Che’s most successful generation against each other.
Rafa Benitez is preparing to return to Mestalla, the stadium where he enjoyed three glorious years by winning two titles and one UEFA Cup with Valencia. When he visits this weekend, he’ll come up against one of the key players he had in that historic squad, Ruben Baraja.
The news of Benitez’s return to La Liga in the summer was celebrated by many fans, especially given that he signed with Celta in what is a special year for the club, as they’re celebrating their centenary. Yet, it hasn’t been an easy start to the campaign and, after a run of tough results, they are embroiled in a relegation battle. Valencia, meanwhile, have settled in mid-table and will be looking to extend their good form at Mestalla, where they have four wins from six games.
The crowd at the stadium is sure to welcome the coach from Madrid in style, as they also did on his previous visit, back when he was coach of Real Madrid. “Rafa, you gave us the best years of our lives,” read a banner at the 100-year-old ground, dedicated to the man who has coached 1,114 games all over the world, winning numerous titles and the respect of the entire footballing community. On the other hand, Baraja’s career in the dugout is much younger, although certain similarities can already be seen in the style of his teams. He looks for a disciplined and well-organised unit that builds from defence and takes advantage of their intensity to transition to attack with speed.
It’s interesting to note that the last time a trophy entered the Valencia cabinet was in 2018/19, when they won the Copa del Rey in their centenary year. With Celta currently celebrating such an achievement, we’ll soon see if Benítez can lead a cup run to excite that fanbase this campaign.
Finally, another aspect to keep in mind ahead of this weekend’s match is the fact that few people know the story of how Benítez and Baraja had another experience together as coach and player before their years together at Valencia. This was in the 1995/96 season at Real Valladolid, when Benitez was making his debut as a coach in the top division, managing a young Baraja who was taking his first steps as a professional footballer.
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