Valencia: Can They Rescue Their Season?

They say the dictionary never lies but it does. Check out the string of words lined up against the term disaster and you will come across this: an event or fact leading to ruin or failure. Pooh! That isn’t half as much as disaster.

Then what is disaster?

Disaster is when you are one of the truly biggest clubs of your nation and are out of the title race even before the halfway point of the season has been reached. Disaster is when you score just 5 goals in your last 8 matches and fail to register a win in your last 5 league games. Disaster is when you manager drops your first choice goalkeeper and replaces him with one who hasn’t played a top-flight football for over a year. Disaster is when you are touted to be genuine title contenders in the pre-season but midway through the season you are struggling even for a UEFA Cup spot.

Disaster is when the ball simply refuses to embrace the back of the opposition net and scampers back after meekly kissing the post like a teenager departing quickly after kissing the forehead of his one-night stand girlfriend. Disaster is when your club president doesn’t attend matches. Disaster is when your fans are so tired of complaining and of performing the panolada that they do not stay for the entire match.

Disaster is, in one word, Valencia.

When Valencia president Juan Soler sacked Quique Sanchez Flores on October 29, Los Che were just 4 points off the pace and although they were not in a very comfortable position in the UEFA Champions League, they still has the chance to steal into the knockout stages. Almost two months fast-forward and Valencia are 15 points behind league leaders Real Madrid and couldn’t even sneak to the UEFA Cup through the backdoor.

Manager Ronald Koeman was supposed to kickstart Valencia’s season as much as in gaining results as in playing wonderful football. Instead it has been a spectacularly horrifying tale of an ever-tightening downward spiral into the bottomless abyss. Under Koeman, Valencia went without a goal for the longest time in their history and the stark fear is that the ship christened Valencia could even sink further.

Valencianos are an insatiable lot whose thirst wasn’t quenched even when they were drinking the champagne regularly in the first four years of this century when the club were enjoying their best spell in history. The complain against Quique was that he was consistently failing to deliver aesthetic football. In fact, Soler’s kickout of the nephew of the legendary flamenco singer Lola was as much enforced by the fans’ continuous protests as propelled by a desperation to salvage some control over the club but he could’ve barely imagined the aftermath of his decision to do away with the man who led Valencia to within inches of clinching the Spanish championship last season.

But inside a week of Quique Sanchez Flores’ exit, Valencia suffered their heaviest defeat so far this season when a ruthlessly rampant Real Madrid side stabbed them everywhere with a 5-1 hammering. That was just the start and although the tone of battering has been somewhat allayed since that disastrous night, the results have followed a similar pattern. Valencia did win 3-0 against Real Murica but that preceded by a 2-0 loss to minnows Rosenborg in the Champions League at home and followed by 1-0 defeat to Racing Santander, 0-0 draw with Schalke 04, 3-0 hammering by Athletic de Bilbao, successive 0-0 draws with Osasuna and Chelsea and 3-0 drubbing by Barcelona.

There you have the statistics. But they aren’t everything. Anyone who has followed Valencia so far this season would tell you that they have always appeared out of sorts, out of depth and out of any imagination whatsoever. This weekend Valencia conceded two goals to Real Zaragoza in the space of 13 minutes at La Romarede and their first half performance typified their abject display throughout all these four odd months.

Valencia have lost 5 matches at home in the league and have conceded a staggering 18 goals and scoring just 9. The myth about Mestalla being a fortress has long been ripped apart and the pieces flung far into the ocean but now it has ridiculously become a free-for-all. Even relegation threatened Athletic de Bilbao have tucked three past them at the Mestalla. Pretty much dismal, isn’t it?

And equally dismal too was Koeman’s team selection for the Zaragoza game. He decided to drop goalkeeper Santiago Canizares (who at 38 has been given a new contract and well, you may read it whichever way you want to) while club captain David Albelda and Miguel Angel Angulo were chunked out of the squad too. Goalkeeper Juan Mora, who was making his first appearance in La Liga this season, 19-year Angel Monotoro Sanchez making only his third game for Valencia and Juan Mata who too is in his teenage years filled their yawning boots.

He brought on the club’s € 15 million summer signing from Racing Santander only in the second half and played on the ineffective Javier Arizmendi for the entire match. That Los Che came roaring back to draw 2-2 didn’t owe much to Koeman’s substitutions as the players’ suddenly discovered rhythm and to Zaragoza’s flawed markings.

It’s a severely tortured cliché, isn’t it, that the manager has to be saddled with the blame for a club’s abysmal string of results? Koeman should certainly be targeted but at the same time you ought to recognize the contribution (or the lack of it) of the players into the mess. Striker Nicola Zigic registered only his first goal in Valencia colors against Zaragoza on Saturday, Arizmendi is a waste and Valencia fans wouldn’t mind watching the back of him.

Valencia’s defenders have looked all too eager to lead the opposition players by the hand to their goal; the midfield is disoriented and in the absence of Pablo Aimar lacks any creative playmaker. The injury devil has reared its ugly head once again and has struck David Villa, Timo Hildebrand, Raul Albiol, Alexis and Ruben Baraja (who returned from injury to face Zaragoza on Sunday). There is no coherence, no pace, no attacking edge, no confidence, no motivation, no creativity, no wit, no intelligence, no invention and few signs that improvement is around the corner.

Yet Koeman cannot but faith on those few signs. The fact that Valencia didn’t crumble down when they were 2-0 down to Zaragoza in the first half augurs some hope for this exceptional bunch of footballers. Against Barcelona one week ago the players simply lost control and against Real in November ripped their clothes apart and laid down on the bed for Madrid to do whatever they wanted to do with them. But against Zaragoza in the second half the Valencia players exhibited steel and resolve and if anything, with a little bit of luck, they could even have snatched an unlikely victory from the jaws of defeat.

Koeman needs to take full control of the team and play the right players at the right positions. Canizares should still be Valencia’s number one although the need for President Soler to search for his replacement for next season cannot be more emphasized, Albelda still should be the captain and inspiration and Silva is always at best on the left of midfield. The defense too requires some bolstering and Koeman must also somehow convince Soler to sign a decent creative central midfielder in the January transfer season.

But more importantly, Koeman needs to get back the confidence of the fans and persuade them to watch Valencia play for the full 90 minutes.

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