There is a Legacy

Lush green turf sweeps majestically before him. It’s his domain even if there are others involved. It’s where he operates. He doesn’t rush, he strolls. The blue and the red providing his vivid colours. The noise and colours that surround him blur into the background. He’s the primary actor. The focus of our attention. We sit in front of the TV. He comes from another world. And we watch.

I’ve toyed with this for a while, delaying unnecessarily if I’m honest. The answer was easy which often makes it the most difficult situation to act upon. My own reluctance to accept the outcome yet simultaneously being the outcome that I actually want. Is it really that time? Already? Did I achieve all that I wanted to? I had no targets when I began but did I achieve anyway? It was always a hobby that became increasingly regular. One, sometimes two, articles per week. It was sustainable. For a while.

And so, this will be my final article on my blog (for the foreseeable future anyway).

I still intend to write for a few other websites just no longer here. There’s no disappointment involved. Only relief. Which is pretty unusual given I’ve only written 3 or 4 articles over the past 12 months. This brings clarity though. Definition. This is the final article. I’ve said it. No more delays and false promises of future articles if only you wait that little bit longer. This is it.

I simply no longer have sufficient time to watch an entire game and analyse it properly before writing an article. And if I’m honest with you, I don’t want to do that anymore either. Maybe my unknown subconscious targets were achieved after all? Maybe my targets have changed. My priorities certainly have.

And the big question, is of course, How? (Note in Glasgow, you don’t say Why? you say How?)

Step forward, or perhaps I should say crawl forward, little Chalk.

With his first birthday just past, it’s time to admit that I cannot continue running this blog any longer. And I don’t want to. I don’t want to watch games and write reviews when I could be playing with my son. Or watching the TV with that central dominating figure present. I’ll be honest, I’d never seen him before but I’m a huge fan now. Around 6.20pm on a midweek night, I no longer watch Revista de La Liga anymore. It’s In The Night Garden now. Xavi has been substituted. For Iggle Piggle. And I simply don’t care.

The obligatory thank you is necessary at this point. As custom dictates, there are simply too many to mention so I’ll keep it to a minimum for those few people who have helped with my blog in one way or another. Some have managed to tolerate me this long and still do whilst others reacted to the urge to avoid me some time ago. Firstly, Iain McMullen who discovered this literary genius and unleashed me via, the now sadly neglected, elcentrocampista.com. Amit at ThinkFootball.com who provided me with a platform at the outset. Gags at EPLIndex.com for the offer of support when needed and providing technical assistance on my blog. Even Ruhi too, who should be happy with my confession below even if my customary ambivalence thereafter will not.

Donald Rumsfeld once spoke about there being known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. I’d actually like to agree with him even if it makes me feel temporarily dirty. I’ll clear up two things immediately. I’m male as quite a few people apparently thought I was female early on (probably owing to my inner bitch). And I have never supported West Brom either.

Thereafter, some of you will be aware of my known knowns. My fondness for chocolate cookies and muffins. That I favour managers and their ideas above teams. Therefore it is Rayo Vallecano in Spain above all others due to the tactical and sartorial genius that is Paco Jemez (although I do have an extremely soft spot for Athletic Bilbao principally due to Bielsa and now Valverde) A few people are aware some of my known unknowns. In England my team always was Arsenal. Nowadays I’ve grown weary of Arsene Wenger and his apparent inability to adapt. Despite my incessant mocking of Wenger and Arsenal these days, there was, is and hopefully will continue to be much to admire at the Emirates.

The unknown unknowns? Well, they’ll stay that way. For a while longer at least. Maybe one day they’ll be revealed. Maybe.

My final thanks goes to an unusual fellow who has suffered considerably at my sarcastic hands over the past couple of years. Step forward young Mr Gene Oliver. Perhaps one day he’ll even learn my name but then, if he did, he would be half as clever as me. And we simply can’t have that now, can we?

And so in this particular battle, little Chalk wins. Iggle Piggle is now the dominant figure on the television. Xavi Hernandez finds himself relegated both at Barcelona and in my home.

Xavi once spoke of there being something greater than the result. That there had to be a legacy.

He was right.

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The Season Ahead

There is always questions ahead of kick off each season. It’s not about who qualifies for European football. It’s not about which sides get relegated. There is only one issue in Spain. The perennial question that crops up every August revolves around which of the big two will win La Liga? Madrid have behaved like Madrid during pre-season and signed more stellar names whereas Barcelona have underwent something of a mini revolution with a host of new signings under the tutelage of new manager, Luis Enrique. So who will win La Liga?

Wait? It’s not a two horse race? It’s a three horse race again this season? :-

 

The Top Three - Season 13-14

The Top Three – Season 13-14

 

Sure, Atleti may have won the title last season but that was a complete fluke, wasn’t it? They can’t compete again, even Simeone has admitted this:-

“I don’t like to lie to people and one thing is clear: We can’t compete with Madrid or Barcelona. Our rivals are Sevilla, Valencia and Athletic and third is our objective”

Of course last season, Simeone repeatedly told anyone who would listen that Atleti couldn’t win La Liga but they did. They couldn’t do so again, could they?

 

Atleti – The Cycle Continues.

“Last year was no fluke, it was a consequence of what has been going on at the club”

Diego Simeone

Can lighting strike twice? Atleti once more start as distant third favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers for the title. Their title.

There have been goodbyes and very good buys at the Calderon during the summer. Courtois, Filipe Luis and Costa moved to Stamford Bridge with the latter pairing gaining substantial income for Atleti that has been wisely reinvested in the team. Did people really think Atleti were ready to rest on their achievements thus far, accept their place?

In Simeone, Atleti possess one of the most highly rated coaches in Europe. And as La Liga champions and a team that were moments away from winning the Champions League, convincing players to stay whilst attracting new players was always going to be much easier than many suggested. Whisper it but Atleti are arguably stronger now than they were last season. Further departures were confirmed in Adrian, David Villa and Guilavogui yet the reinforcements are very impressive.

Oblak, Siquiera, Mandzukic, Griezmann (offering a new dimension to Atleti’s attack), Correa, Jimenez, utility defender Ansaldi from Zenit could be very important and Saul after a year at Rayo and Atleti have greater all round strength than before. And Koke has signed a new contract too. So can they do the unthinkable and defend their title?

Simeone has urged caution and acknowledged that this is a new team with all of the changes that have occurred:-

“We are finishing the group. We have changed, especially in attack. I see it as a new beginning. The solid structure supporting the attack is maintained but we are looking for the style that best suits us. We must have patience.”

The issue is not the quality of the side individually but the ability for Atleti to continue the collective play and intensity of their game that Simeone demands after almost 3 years in control. Is the hunger still there within the players? Can they still give everything for the side week in, week out? Can el Cholo get the new players to integrate quickly and adapt to the high workrate and tempo that he demands? If he can then Atleti can once more mount a serious challenge for the league.

“The structure of the team is not going to change. Stability comes with maintaining the same ideas: intensity and aggressiveness will continue to be the basis,”

Simeone

And the players believe this too. Simeone’s on-field general, Gabi confirms as much:-

 “We have a clear idea of how we want to play,”

And that is the key.

For Simeone, this isn’t the end of the cycle:-

“First it was the Europa League, then the European Super Cup, Copa del Rey, third in the League and the following year the League title and the Champions League final. The team and the club have done great work to retain many players and try and continue a great cycle.”

Simone believed last season and many doubted him. Despite his words, he believes again this season. Who doubts Atleti now?

 

Barcelona

Martino failed didn’t he? After all, a trophyless season at a club like Barcelona is a failure no matter what the contextual narrative is. And the Argentinean has admitted that himself:-

“I’m completely dissatisfied with the year that has passed and I’m always thinking that I’m the man responsible”

Former player Luis Enrique returns to the Camp Nou to take control of a squad with new players but still needing further overhaul work. Short spells at Roma and Celta Vigo have identified the style of Enrique. Similarities with Guardiola exist but also key differences. Expect Barcelona to continue with the attractive style of play but contain a rougher edge to them. “Lucho” won’t expect his side to be bossed or bullied physically on the pitch. It won’t be more of the same but a gradual evolution of style. You don’t abandon your footballing principles die to one poor season. You adapt and you evolve making subtle tactical tweaks. An overhaul is not required. The death of tiki taka has been greatly exaggerated.

With numerous new arrivals but also departures, each area of the team needs work to fit together. Pre season friendlies have seen players from the B team step up and there will be spaces available for those who perform to complement the squad. The real focus has been on the final third with the arrival of Luis Suarez even allowing for his 4 month ban. How does the Uruguayan fit in with Messi and Neymar?

With Xavi likely to play a diminished role, the opportunity will exist for Messi to drop deeper than before and play as a genuine no10 with Suarez as a no9 ahead of him and Neymar on the left. It’s a trio brimming with potential but it also leads to questions. Do Barcelona continue with a 4-3-3 meaning the right side needs a younger version of Dani Alves to operate the full length of the pitch or does the side switch to something more akin to a 4-2-3-1. With Mascherano now back in defensive midfield and Busquets possibly playing a little higher up the pitch, options exist. Barcelona has consistently failed to plan or address what happens in a team without Xavi. That problem can no longer be avoided and will be dealt with one way or another this season. It’s exacerbated with the looming transfer ban. Pending an appeal to CAS, Barcelona may be unable to sign any more players once this window closes until January 2016. Further activity is therefore likely for a squad that isn’t strong enough to survive until January 2016 without further reinforcements. The problem for Barcelona is their recent appalling record in transfer dealings. The likes of Alex Song, not a player Barcelona needed but a player Barcelona could afford, is still to be offloaded. Can Barcelona really make enough acquisitions of the requisite quality?

Surprisingly, Deulofeu has been allowed to leave on loan although the spell with Sevilla could see him ready to return next season and claim a place but the prospect of a permanent departure increases now. With limited options in attack, the likes of Munir now have far greater opportunities to establish themselves as members of the first team squad.

It won’t be permitted but it does feel like a transitional season is beginning for Barcelona albeit one that certainly contains more possibilities for the team than most clubs can even dream about. Xavi has spoken about the harmony in the squad and the need to capture at least one trophy this season.

“We’ve signed very good players both on a football and personal level. The human relationships are the best there have been in recent years”

That could be crucial. Enrique building a close knit squad could see challenges sustained despite the relative lack of depth to the squad. A testing season lies ahead for Lucho.

 

Real Madrid – A Balancing Act

When the opportunity arises to sign a player of the calibre of Toni Kroos for around £20million, it’s not really a difficult decision to make. And when you’re the President of Real Madrid, you don’t really consider if the club need another elite level player. If one becomes available, you sign him. And in a World Cup year, who else can you sign other than the star player from that World Cup and golden boot winner, James Rodriguez of Columbia. It’s a policy that Florentino Perez adheres too. It’s not his problem how all of these star players integrate into the team. That’s a problem for the Coach to contend with.

A problem that has caused successive coaches of Real Madrid notable problems as Perez has tended to make at least one marquee signing each summer during his tenure as President. Fortunately, in Carlo Ancelotti, Perez now has a Coach in charge of Real Madrid who has repeatedly proven his ability to squeeze a multitude of star names into a starting line up without compromising the team balance as a consequence. Whether Carlo Ancelotti actually wanted Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez is immaterial. He’s got them now and fitting them into the side is his problem. This could be Ancelotti’s most difficult assignment yet.

Where should Rodriguez play? Can Kroos and Modric play against the very top teams with no defensive support? It’s all about balance for Ancelotti this season. With the departures of Khedira and Di Maria seeming likely and in the case of the diminutive Argentinean completely baffling, the base of midfield remains the issue that Ancelotti must focus on. A pairing of Kroos and Modric is very attractive but defensively unstable as witnessed in the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla.

Could Kroos replace Alonso in the Madrid side? At 32 and with limited mobility, his time on the main stage could be drawing to a conclusion. Last season in La Liga, Alonso averaged 65 passes per game, the most of any Madrid player with Ramos on 61 and Modric on 58. When it comes to interceptions (1.5) and tackles (2.4), Alonso makes more per game of both than any other Madrid midfielder. Unsurprisingly, he also commits more fouls too. A product of his lack of mobility or due to him being swamped with too many team mates pushing on? His defensive contribution is key for Madrid. Alonso played 26 league games for Madrid last season with los blancos taking an average of 2.38 points per game. Without him they took 2.08 points per game.
Could Kroos fulfil this defensive role? Last season Kroos made an average of 75 passes per game but on the defensive side only averaged 0.5 interceptions per game and 1.8 tackles per game. Does that matter? Given Bayern’s complete dominance of the ball, these statistics will be heavily skewed. Simply put, it’s hard to defend when you always have the ball. And it’s hard to analyse the defensive output for Kroos as a consequence. There is still an important role for Alonso but the real beneficiary should be Illarramedi. The Basque must step forward this season and demonstrate why he gained so many plaudits at La Real.

If Di Maria does depart, more is likely to be asked of Bale to operate partly as a shuttling role between midfield and attack. As adaptable as Bale is and given his early career saw him positioned at full back, he will be able to cope. But can he deliver as well as Di Maria? I’m not certain he can make the difference to the same extent as Di Maria does.

Madrid begin the season as clear favourites for the title. Individually, the squad is packed with quality and is arguably the best squad in world football. How that translates onto the pitch collectively will be the dilemma for Ancelotti this season. Get it right and you could see Madrid dominate all the tournaments they enter. Get it wrong and…well, you know how Perez tends to operate.

It’s difficult to look beyond Madrid even with the balancing problems that exist. The depth of talent within the squad is unrivalled and even though seeing Atleti successfully defend their title would be unparalleled in the modern era of European football, I just cannot see it happening. Atleti will have the greatest success in cup competitions once more as normal service is resumed on the domestic front. Barcelona to finish runners up to Madrid. Even if the collective fails, individually they can still win games.

 

The Battle for Fourth

Away from the title race, the battle for fourth place, assuming that the big three (funny saying that now) secure the top three positions, and final Champions League position could see a genuine contest between five teams. Four of the contenders could be involved in European football this season. Will that have an effect? The graphic below shows the final positions from last season:-

 

The Race for 4th Place - Season 13-14

The Race for 4th Place – Season 13-14

 

Sevilla

Unai Emery likes to make changes. He changes this, he changes that. It’s what he does best along with managing to take one point from games in which his team should take three. He excelled at such a conservative approach at Valencia yet showed brief glimpses of shaking that image off a little at Sevilla as the Andalusians claimed the Europa League. Yet by narrowly missing out on 4th place with a typically cautious performance in a game they needed to win against Athletic Bilbao, Emery showed that streak remains within him.

It’s been another busy close season at the Sanchez Pizjuan for Monchi as he showed signs last season of getting back to his wheeling dealing best. Rakitic and Moreno depart for hefty fees but yet again it’s the players coming in that show real potential for the side. Iago Aspas arrives after a nightmare time at Liverpool to aid the attack but its the capture on loan of Gerard Deulofeu that could be really inspiring if the Barcelona youngster’s words are anything to go by:-

“My departure surprised me a bit, they made me come back from Everton and then later they told me I wouldn’t get minutes. But I don’t want to talk much about Barca, I want to talk about the year I am going to have here. I know that I am lacking some things from a defensive aspect and I will work to improve that. One of my aims is to show Luis Enrique he was wrong and above all show it to myself.”

And then the is arguably the signing of the summer. The sort of transfer that make you double check the fee involved because there had to be a typo in there surely? Ever Banega left Valencia to be reunited with his former manager for a paltry €2.5m. If Banega focuses on the football as he did during Valverde’s brief tenure at the Mestalla, Sevilla have a midfielder capable of dragging the team forward and one that will lessen the blow of losing last season’s talisman, Rakitic.

Emery showed last season that sometimes changes can be good as he juggled the squad on two fronts. If they can beat Athletic, Sevilla will finish 4th.

 

Athletic

There is something very reassuring about a side managed by Ernesto Valverde. You immediately know the type of football that you will see. His sides always display the same style and personality and Athletic are no different. The chaos of the Bielsa era was pushed aside as Valverde guided the Basques to 4th place last season and Champions League qualification. Subject to their game against Napoli, the possiblity of Champions League involvement or at the very least, Europa League football to contend with, it’s a season that will stretch the Athletic squad fully.

Borja Viguero arrives to strengthen the attack with Kike Sola recovering from injury but alongside Aduritz there is still a question mark over who will score the goals. None of the three are prolific. As usual there will be a reliance upon the midfield and the team in general to supplement the forwards and weigh in with a few goals.

Ander Herrara has departed but Benat should take his place in the side and hopefully rediscover Betis form. With a limited talent pool upon which to draw, Athletic are reliant upon their cantera for new talent. It’s tie for the likes of  of Laporte, Moran and Gomez to challenge for first team starting place on a regular basis Beyond that, will Iker Muniain consistently show his true capabilities rather than just fleeting moments?

 

Valencia

For the first time since season 2004/05, Valencia begin a season with no European football on the cards. What was perhaps viewed as a disappointment when last season ended, could become a blessing in disguise for the newly appointed inexperienced Portuguese manager Santo, who takes the helm backed by the finance of Peter Lim following his takeover of the club.

The loss of Bernat to Bayern Munich is considerable but the arrival of Mustafi, fresh from his involvement in Germany’s World Cup winning campaign, should offset that loss. Mathieu has also gone as a reshuffled backline will include the Argentinean Otamendi.

Last season, Jonas with a paltry 9 league goals was top scorer in league. It’s simply not good enough for a side with aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League. To remedy this, Rodrigo has joined from Benfica. Yet Valencia have sufficient creativity within their ranks to provide for the striker. Alcacer, Piatti and Parejo are all fine players meaning the loss of Banega should not be felt in the central midfield area.

Just how important free midweeks are will become apparent as the season wears on. With no distractions, Valencia will be able to mount a challenge in the league alone.  With a little luck, maybe the club will get through the entire season with the same manager?

 

Villarreal

Nobody expected Villarreal to perform as well as they did last season. And nobody will expect them to perform to quite the same level again but Marcelinho will need to continute the impressive form of the submarine. Again, another side who wil face the slog of Sunday, Thursday, Sunday football if a prolonged run in the Europa League takes hold and again, Villarreal has a squad that isn’t the strongest in terms of numbers.

Some good signings have arrived with Jonathan Dos Santos joining his brother at El Madrigal along with Rukavina and Cheryshev. Victor Ruiz comes in perhaps as a replacement for the departure of Mussachio. Whilst he has suffered in recent times since leaving Espanyol for Napoli, there is a good defender in Ruiz if Marcelinho can coax his best form again. The front end of the team has suffered with the loss of Perbet, Pereira and Aquino.

The Submarine will draw heavily upon the ability of Bruno, Trigueros, the aging limbs of Cani and the goals of Giovani Dos Santos if they are to replicate last season.

 

La Real

La Real could be the side to slip a little further down the pecking order this season. Whilst the loss of Bravo and Griezmann have been covered with Rulli and Finnbogason, you have to consider the drop in quality alongside the loss previously of Illarramendi. True, he has been replaced by Granero but the continued loss of such key performers to be replaced by quality but lesser quality as an effect. Arrasate can only do so much and with Xabi Prieto a little older and a little slower, much will depend upon the ability of Pardo. Can he confirm a place in the side and offer something different?

Much will also weigh heavily upon Vela this season. Finnbogason may have scored elsewhere but it’s a step up in quality for him this season. Vela will be the focal point for the attack now.

There’s always the nagging feeling with La Real that they are happy just to be there. That they lack the mentality to take the fight on that little bit further. A further slip down the league beckons for La Real.

 

 

And for the rest of La Liga, it’s the usual mix. Teams that will defy the odds and perform well whilst some other teams will go on prolonged runs of poor form and get dragged into the seemingly endless relegation mire that will go the final day of the season as is customary in Spain. And with the usual dozen or so permutations on who could be relegated due to the head to head ruling.

Unsurprisingly, the newly promoted minnows of Eibar and Cordoba are odds on favourites for a swift return to the Segunda. The third side to accompany them upwards into La Liga are also third favourites to return but things could look different up in Galicia this season. Deportivo have the ability to stay in the top flight.

 

Deportivo – Upsetting the Odds?

Last time around Depor didn’t have any problems creating and scoring goals but their leaky defence conceded 70, only fellow relegated side Real Mallorca conceded more than that. That problem was solved in the Segunda last season with the defence only conceding 36 goals but the trade off was an attack that hit just 48 goals in 42 games. Victor Fernandez favouring a more conservative style of play that gained the necessary points to get promotion. Don’t expect dramatic changes this season either. Grinding out points will be key to survival but more goals are still needed. To remedy this, the usual influx of players on loan have arrived at the Riazor. The revolving door policy doesn’t breed stability but such a term isn’t really understood at the financially stricken club.

One player who has joined permanently on a 12 month contract and who, with the greatest respect to Deportivo, should be playing at a higher level is Isaac Cuenca. If the former Barcelona winger can recapture his early career form before injury stalled his development, Depor will have a genuine creative force to supplement their attack. It won’t be a spectacular season but a finish outside the relegation zone is achievable and will be considered a success whilst confounding the bookies in the process.

 

The Boys from Vallecas – Rayo

If Atleti and their fans are wondering if lighting can strike twice, the fans of Rayo are pondering the unthinkable. Can it strike for the third time? Can Paco Jemez really lead Rayo Vallecano to safety for the third season in a row?

Sadly, I fear for Rayo this season. This may be just one step too far and the relative late season comfort they have enjoyed in the past two seasons may be missing this season.

“The team is under construction, but we’re slowly settling in.”

Paco Jémez

Construction is the apt word. For every season, Paco Jemez aided by Sportin Director Minambres set about rebuilding the foundations in Vallecas. This season, an astonishing 19 players departed leaving just eight first team players. So far, a further 12 players have joined. As normal, there seems to be an abundance of creativity with the likes of Jonathan Pereira, Aquino, Pozuelo and Kakuta but where will the goals come from? The loss of Larrivey could be significant as his replacement in Manucho doesn’t inspire confidence with just 14 goals in his 57 games for Vallodolid. And further back, the defence needs work. Rayo have conceded 146 goals in two seasons under Jemez in the top flight, a frightening amount.

With such a huge turnaround of players, an adaptation period would take time for any team. When you have a team with one of the smallest budgets in the league attempting to dominate possession and play one of the most expansive style of football in the league, that adaptation period is extended and mistakes will occur. For Rayo, this frequently ends in heavy defeats early in the season. Pressing opponents all over the pitch and playing a very high offside line is not something that comes naturally to all players. Positioning and coordination the team unit takes time.

The ability of players to adapt is essential. If not, Rayo will have serious problems hence the decision to allow new signing Boateng to depart just two months after arrival. The Ghanian unable to adjust to the demands of Jemez. Results may be unfavourable early on just like last season but don’t expect Paco Jemez to change. That won’t happen:-

“I’m not interested in just winning any old way… This is what we wanted. This is the way we are. This is what we are”

If it’s goals and excitement you want this season, Rayo Vallecano are the team for you. And with a little extra support, maybe, just maybe they can escape relegation.

Real Sociedad vs Valencia – One small step, one giant leap.

Real Sociedad took a massive step towards securing Champions League football with an excellent victory over Valencia at Anoeta last night. Whilst the final scoreline of 4-2 may be slightly harsh on the visitors, they ultimately paid the price for their lack of a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. Despite holding an advantage in possession, Valencia were unable to manufacture sufficient clear chances. La Real, meanwhile, displayed the sort of lethal finishing from transitions that has become the hallmark of their season.

Line Up

With Griezmann absent, Chory Castro was given a  place in the starting line up, a clear indication fo a more attack minded side from Montannier as opposed to the slightly more conservative Zurutuza.

Real Sociedad vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Real Sociedad vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Valverde opted for Cissokho in place of Guardado at left back following recent performances with Fehgouli recalled to the right side of midfield. Otherwise, Valencia were as expected.

The Game

With so much at stake, this game began brightly and continued in a similar vein, really opening up as it reached the end. Valencia prompted by Ever Banega were keen to test Bravo early on and enjoyed some decent possession but Sociedad gradually grew into the game and always looked dangerous on transitions but struggled to gain any meaningful possession with Valencia pressing aggressively. Twice in the opening 15 minutes Vela burst down the right and provided warnings to Valencia. A similar transition brought a yellow card to Cissokho when he tripped Prieto.

As the game was evening out, Valencia took the lead with Cissokho charging down the left and delivering a cross which Soldado scored after stealing a yard start on Inigo Martinez. The left back would become embroiled in a number of incidents leaving him fortunate to remain on the pitch and it reduced his effectiveness as he adopted a more low key approach.

Banega was drifting out of the game as Sociedad’s full backs pushed high and the home side exerted more influence on the game. Valencia had struggled to deal with a few crosses and Sociedad equalised when Vela and Prieto took a  short corner and delivered a ball to Martinez who was unmarked at the back post to volley home.

The second half saw both teams more stretched and the lack of width in Valencia’s play became more evident but Banega was once more instrumental in all positive play from Los Che.

The game hinged upon the ability of Sociedad to counter swiftly with slick, sharp passing. The second goal was superb with Castro breaking from his own half and linking with Aguirrexte before scoring. Two further goals followed both from Aguirretxe including the final goal being a wonderfully delicate chip over the stranded Alves. Such poise and guile was shown by the frontman when the game was still hanging in the balance.

In between Aguirrexte’s goals, Jonas offered Valencia some fleeting hope.

Full Backs

With both side using inverted wingers particularly Jonas from Valencia, the onus was always going to be on the full backs from both sides to provide width in this game.

Carlos Martinez completed three crosses from seven attempted as shown in the graphic below which included two key passes:-

Martinez Crosses

Martinez Crosses                          http://www.squawka.com

Martinez was the more adventurous ad productive full back over the 90 minutes. De La Bella on the Sociedad left also ventured forward and completed one cross from five attempted but with both Prieto and Vela leaving towards that side of the pitch, there was less onus on him to push high.

Yet with Jonas cutting inside at every opportunity and Fehgouli more inclined to stay wide but having a relatively quite game, Valencia’s full backs were unable to have any effect o the game. Cissokho threatened early on and managed to deliver one successful cross from four attempted but a caution soon left him more conservative, unwilling to venture forward for fear of being caught out on the counter. Pereira meanwhile offered nothing going forward and only attempted one cross all night.

Chory Castro

The former Mallorca front man was brought into the side with Griezmann out. That Montannier selected Castro ahead of Zurutuza was perhaps indicative that he wanted to be more aggressive in attack.

Castro had six attempts and goal and scored once with four efforts being blocked. Despite playing out wide in a counter attacking side, he made 18 passes form 30 attempted and people will judge him on his attacking contribution but Montannier will assess his full performance which includes the defensive effort he provided:-

Chory Castro Tackles

Chory Castro Tackles                        http://www.squawka.com

Castro made four successful tackles during the game as he supported De La Bella by tracking both Pereira and Fehgoiuli on the right. Yet he was still able to push forward and cause problems.

Valencia Attack

One of the key problems from a Valencia perspective was their inability to turn their possession and territorial dominance into clear cut chances. Despite enjoying a slight advantage in terms of possession, Valencia never used the ball well in the final third with Sociedad defending very well and the onus was placed upon the shoulders of Ever Banega to create once more.

The Argentine though is reliant upon his team mates to offer themselves and share the burden. With Soldado often isolated and marked out of the game, Jonas was deeper than Banega at times and Fehgouli too wide. Parejo infrequently broke forward from midfield. It left Banega making passes and recycling possession but not hurting Sociedad.

The graphic below shows Valencia’s key passes:-

VCF Key Passes

VCF Key Passes                            http://www.squawka.com

Too few of Valencia’s passes were hurting Sociedad. The key passes were deep against a side that was content to sit a little deeper when required to do so. Yet this contrasts very sharply with the key passes from La Real who made fewer passes overall but had far more key passes as they cut open the Valencia defence on numerous occasions:-

Sociedad Key Passes

Sociedad Key Passes                      http://www.squawka.com

Of course, when you are breaking into space as La Real frequently did, then it’s easier to play key passes from a two vs two situation. Yet Valencia knew this was how Sociedad would play. It’s how they have played for much of the season and on those terms, it was Valencia who failed to address the problems that the home side would cause. Was there an alternative to the aging Albelda in front of the defence? Should Cissokho have been withdrawn when his yellow card more of less left him unable to offer enough either defensively or pushing forward?

Conclusions

Two teams who both sustained poor starts to the season and languished in the wrong  half of the table early on but will both finish in the top six now.

With five games remaining and a five point lead over both Malaga and Valencia and a superior head to head record, La Real are very much in pole position to claim the final Champions League position. The San Sebastian team have built their season around a superb run of form which has seen them lose just one game since November 2012 and even then, they really should have avoided defeat to 1o man Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Qualification for European football’s premier tournament will be just reward for a richly talented squad that has grown, developed and entertained as the season has progressed.

For Valencia, the ramifications of defeat may very well stretch out beyond this season. With the loss of much needed Champions League revenue, additional departures may be likely to help balance the books. The poor early season form that saw the side collect just 11 points from their opening nine games combined with instability on and off the pitch has meant they have always been playing catch up and always almost getting there but never quite making it.

Espanyol vs Valencia – Another home game, another draw.

Espanyol served up another excellent high scoring draw at home following on the back of their recent 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad. On Saturday evening, the visitors were Valencia and an open and entertaining game burst into life in the final 10minutes with four goals.

Line Ups

Both sides lined up in broad 4-2-3-1 formations.

Espanyol vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Espanyol vs Valencia Starting Line Ups

Espanyol opted to use Wakaso instead of Simao on the left wing, other than that, the line up was as expected.

Valverde continues to have problems in the centre of defence and the makeshift pairing for this game was Ricardo Costa and Mathieu. Guardado continues at left back and Jonas and Canales were favoured on the wings with Fehgouli remaining on the bench.

Overall

Despite dominating possession with 57% compared to the home sides’ 43%, Valencia were never really in control of this game. Espanyol were sharper in the first half with Valencia too slow in possession when constructing attacks. There was a lack of dynamism and Soldado never really entered the action as moves broke down in the final third. Espanyol were always able to regroup and regain their positions quickly whereas Valencia were slower to do so.

A key feature of this Espanyol side is their pressing. They drop off to the halfway line to regain their shape but they can, and do, press high on occasion when they see certain triggers. Dani Parejo was robbed of possession twice when he received the ball facing his own goal. Espanyol knew Valencia would always try to build from the back and targeted when to press for maximum impact.

Espanyol Asymmetric Approach

Espanyol have leaned heavily upon the attacking trio of Verdu, Garcia and Stuani for creativity and goals to push the side further up the table. It has led to a lop sided approach and this was noticeable on Saturday evening and can be seen in the graphic below:-

Espanyol Heat Map

Espanyol Heat Map           http://www.squawka.com

With Stuani being much more attack minded, Aguirre opted to go with the inconsistent but gifted Wakaso on the left. With a higher work ethic and a more industrious nature, Wakaso was able to offer greater security on the left defensively and an edge when attacking. From three attempted tackles, Wakaso was successful with two. This was necessary as Verdu and Garcia moved further to the right to link with Stuani.

Further evidence of Espanyol favouring the right can be seen by Valencia’s tackling statistics. In their own half of the field, Valencia only made one tackle on their right side but 11 tackles on the left:-

Valencia Tackles

Valencia Tackles                    http://www.squawka.com

Espanyol were very reliant upon one side of the pitch for creativity during the game yet their second goal arrived from a breakaway down the left with Wakaso leading the way. The chance appeared to have gone before Verdu volleyed the ball in off the ground.

The Problem with Inverted Wingers – Jonas Goncalves

In recent weeks, Jonas has been shifted from his preferred central berth to a wider starting position and operates more like an inverted winger now. Providing width during counter attacks to stretch the opponent, but moving inward when Valencia are building attacks, enabling the full back to move beyond him and provide the width at that point in the move.

The graphic below shows his passes:-

Jonas Passes

Jonas Passes                       http://www.squawka.com

Despite scoring a goal in the 86th minute, Jonas offered little in the final third with all of his crosses failing to find a team mate.  HIs tendency to drift inward also created a problem for Valencia on transitions which Espanyol were able to exploit with Wakaso scoring the opening goal.

When an inverted winger moves inward, there is immediately a problem if the move breaks down as the opposing full back or winger is able to progress without restriction.

In the 45th minute, Espanyol regained possession in their own half and Verdu released Garcia on the right. His surging run ended with a deep cross to the far post where Wakaso arrived at pace to head the opening goal. Ignoring the poor defending of Joao Pereira, Wakaso was not tracked. Jonas had been central when play broke down and stranded.

Valencia Positions – Banega and Ruiz

The positioning of several Valencia players has been a noticeable and intriguing feature of Ernesto Valverde’s time at the club. What may have arisen from emergency situations, appears to have potentially solved some positional concerns.

Ever Bangea has been utilised in an advanced central midfield position previously but he often seems uncomfortable there particularly if he is starved of possession. And Valencia can seem bereft of ideas when Banega is deployed so high. The solution has been to use Dani Parejo almost like a deep lying regista, knitting the play together, recycling possession.

With Parejo behind him and providing the ball, Banega can create more opportunities for his team mates as he did on Saturday evening.

The graphic below shows Banega’s passing:-

Banega Passes

Banega Passes      http://www.squawka.com

Although he started brightly, Banega was stifled during the first half and only began to have an impact on proceedings when he took up a more advanced position and with Tino Costa off the pitch, the three central midfielders for Valencia had clear duties. Albelda to sit, Parejo to circulate possession and Banega to create scoring chances.

Banega played further forward in the second half. More probing. Feeding balls through to the front players. Roberto Soldado became more involved as a result as the Argintenean played a number of slide passes through the Espanyol backline searching for runners coming from a wide to central position.

The equalising goal in the 52nd minute came from Baenga’s pass, Canales on an inward diagonal run collecting and dispatching the ball home. Soldado saw his 78th minute effort saved after receiving Banega’s through ball but Valencia’s top goalscorer was not to be denied and latched onto another pass from Banega in the 90th minute to give the away side a temporary lead. Again, the run from from a wide starting position into the channel between full back and centre back. An area Valencia sought to expose in the second half.

Whilst Banega represents a change at the front of the side, a change at the back has been equally good although on side evening, Victor Ruiz reverted to type. Ruiz returned to the first team following a month out trough injury when he was called into action following the removal of Ricardo Costa due to injury.

Following the arrival of Valverde and the poor form of Fernando Gago in the defensive midfield position, Ruiz was moved into a deep midfield slot as a temporary measure. It’s an area where he has shown a considerable improvement in his form and crucially, where any mistakes he makes are not subject to harsh punishment. Statistically, Ruiz performance was fine. He was not hitting stray passing, mistiming tackles, failing to win headers or conceding fouls. But it’s the things that cannot be measured that have caused Ruiz problems. The poor decision making and lapses in concentration.

On Saturday evening, the thought process behind Valverde’s decision was brought sharply into focus. Arriving as first half substitute, Ruiz somehow escaped the concession of a penalty from a reckless challenge on Sergio Garcia in the penalty area. It was a challenge that did not have to be made yet Ruiz launched himself into it.

And in the final minute of the game, Ruiz failed to deal with a ball headed into the penalty area. The defender tried to shepherd the ball back to Guaita in goal rather than undertake the basics. Your side is winning 3-2 away from home and the game is deep in injury time. Clear your lines. Conceded a throw in or a corner kick if necessary. Ruiz did neither and he was unsuccessful holding Garcia off and Espanyol promptly equalised.

Conclusions.

Javier Aguirre has led Espanyol to five home wins and four draws during his brief tenure at the club.

As well as Espanyol are doing, Aguirre must now let his focus shift to next season. Can Garcia continue to deliver as he enters the last few seasons of his career? And will Verdu still be at the club next season? These are the dilemmas which should now occupy the Mexican’s mind.

Given the run of form Espanyol are on, a point is a decent result for Valverde and his men. Until that is, La Real secured 3 points away to Rayo. It leaves the gap between La Real and Los Che at 4 points.

Valencia now face two games which could define their season. Malaga travel to the Mestalla this weekend followed by Los Che making the trip north to San Sebastian where La Real lie in wait.

Secure maximum points and the coveted 4th position will still be within touching distance.

 

Valencia vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

Real Madrid travelled to the Mestalla to face a revitalised Valencia side under the leadership of Ernesto Valverde. Since taking charge of Los Che, Valverde has won seven of his nine games in all competitions. A 2-0 defeat away to Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey in midweek did not dampen enthusiasm before kick off that Valencia could win this game such was the quality at times during their recent encounter. What they would not have expected was to see a first half performance from Madrid which was clinical, professional and utterly ruthless. A reminder of the devastating power which the club from the capital possess on the counter attack which resulted in Valencia suffering their heaviest ever loss to Madrid at home.

Line Ups

There were three changes to the side which had defeated Sevilla 2-0. Albelda was injured whilst Pereira and Parejo were suspended. Ruiz, Gago and Tino Costa came back into the side.

Valencia Starting Line Up

Valencia Starting Line Up

The surprise was the inclusion of Ricardo Costa being played out of position at right back. Barragan remained on the bench.

Mourinho named the strongest eleven available to him with Higuain favoured in place of Benzema in attack.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Modric and Callejon made way for the returning due of Ozil and Ronaldo after the disappointment of the goalless draw in Pamplona.

First Half

A game which began fast with Valencia seeking to impose their style of play on Madrid soon descended into a nightmare for the home side as Madrid picked them off on the counter attack.

The patience shown a few days earlier at the Bernabeu was replaced by a frenetic style from Los Che perhaps determined to show they could compete.It was an ill advised strategy. By increasing the tempo of their game and lacking composure, Madrid were content to sit deep and pounce forward, the opening goal being a prime example.

As is so often the case, Madrid are most dangerous when you attack. Ozil evaded Banega on the edge of the penalty area and 13 seconds later Higuain scored. The confusion in the Valencia defence evident with Gago appealing for offside with Guardado a few yards deeper than him.

Three of Madrid’s goals originated down the Valencia right where Costa was clearly uncomfortable. Ronaldo played a neat one two with Ozil and burst beyond Costa before eventually cutting back for Di Maria whilst the third goal was farcical from Valencia’s perspective. Both Costa and Rami diving in at the halfway line whilst Ruiz and Guardado were over five yards deeper on the other side of defence.

The high line and a lack of coherent pressure on the ball provided the script for a seamless display of attacking prowess from Madrid. Madrid also pressed Valencia very quickly. Valverde demands the play to be built from the back but Valencia do not yet have the players to do so properly. Too often Valencia were robbed in possession. With the game won, Madrid then eased off.

Positions

The graphic below shows the player positions during the game with Valencia in blue and Real Madrid in red.

Valencia vs Real Madrid - Player Positions

Valencia vs Real Madrid – Player Positions                         http://www.whoscored.com

Although at right back, Costa is the deepest Valencia player with Rami positioned very close to him. Guardado meanwhile is beyond the halfway line but isolated by the narrow position of Jonas who should have been on the left wing.

Gago is also positioned too far to the right with Costa and Banega stationed very high. The team is fairly compact as Valverde would want but it’s unbalanced. The high line is not supported by pressure on the Madrid midfield. Banega and Tino Costa are too high probably in an effort to support Soldado.

The defensive set up was uneasy throughout the match and Madrid exploited the uncertainty ruthlessly.

For Madrid the position of Ozil is crucial, practically level with Higuain and beyond Gago. From the outset Ozil was operating between the lines and this was a key factor in Madrid ’s fifth goal. He is already beyond Gago when he collects Albiol’s header forward.

Madrid Attack

Despite the scoreline, Valencia actually had more shots at goal than their opponents again demonstrating that as useful as statistics are, they need to be investigated a little more closely.

Madrid had 13 shots at goal of which seven on target, scoring five goals. Valencia had 20 shots at goal but many were speculative and long range. Just three were on target with Piatti also hitting the crossbar.

The graphic below shows all of Madrid ’s shots on target.

Real Madrid Shots on Target vs Valencia

Real Madrid Shots on Target vs Valencia         http://www.squawka.com

With the exception of Ronaldo’s first goal, all of Madrid ’s shots were within the penalty area and very central. They were incredibly efficient in front of goal.

With fewer shots at goal than their opponent, Madrid also had less possession as they continue to resort to a predominantly counter attacking style of play.

Di Maria made 34 passes from 47 passes attempted, more than anyone else in the Madrid team. His return to top form was marked by two attempts on goal and two goals coupled with an assist for Higuain.

Clash of Styles

Since the arrival of Mourinho, Madrid have developed a counter attack which is arguably more potent than any other side in world football. From the first season position whereby the Madrid team appeared to be two units held together by Xabi Alonso and reliant upon individuals, they moved forward to last season’s Championship winning side when the unit functioned well as a whole.

This season, they appeared to have regressed towards that first season model again. They seek to sit deep and break quickly, utilising their pace on the flanks. Play is seldom constructed thoughtfully partially explaining the problem that Modric has faced in adapting. They have become direct and rely upon moments of individual brilliance to overcome opponents. Last night provided further evidence of this but also provided a glimpse of how this simple style can take the opposition apart.

Madrid completed just 225 passes from 315 attempted giving 71% accuracy. They saw less of the ball but when they had possession, they used it much more effectively. Previously, Xabi Alonso would be at the heart of Madrid ’s play yet last night produced a fairly subdued performance.

Alonso 22 passes completed from 30 attempted in his 57minutes on the pitch as the graphic below illustrates.

Alonso Passes vs Valencia

Alonso Passes vs Valencia                                       http://www.squawka.com

Contrast this with Ever Banega who Valencia tried to get on the ball as often as possible to create. For comparison with Alonso, Banega completed 31 passes from 35 attempted (89% completion rate) in the first 60 minutes. In the 90 minutes as a whole he completed 51 passes from 61 attempted.

Ever Banega Passes vs Real Madrid

Ever Banega Passes vs Real Madrid                     http://www.squawka.com

Yet despite all the volume of passing and the fact that Banega made five key passes, there was no end product for Valencia . As at the Bernabeu they were capable of weaving pretty passes across the pitch with no punch.

Ozil Heat Map vs Valencia

Ozil Heat Map vs Valencia                                     http://www.squawka.com

Mesut Ozil floated around the pitch operating between the Valencia defensive and midfield line creating problems despite making minimal passes. Ozil made two assists with his team mates in an excellent performance.

Often ignored amongst elite sides is the workrate. Too often the less attractive side of the game is overlooked but Madrid were highly competitive last night. Valencia won 9 tackles form 10 attempted yet compare this against Madrid who won 20 tackles from 24 attempted. Madrid were ready to compete on the physical side of the game. Just as at Levante when they had to become competitive, Madrid were ready to stand up to the challenge.

Valencia Right

As good as Madrid were in the first half, it’s impossible to consider their performance without commenting on the poor defensive performance from Valencia especially on the right side of their defence.

The decision to play Costa at right back ahead of Barragan was, in hindsight, probably a mistake if only for the most natural balance that Barragan would have brought to the side defensively. With Guardado continuing at left back and prone to positional mistakes, the side badly misses Mathieu.

Madrid committed 13 fouls in the game with only two fouls occurring on their left side. Valencia were too reliant upon their left side with Guardado, Jonas and Tino Costa all leaning towards that area.

Real Madrid Fouls Committed vs Valencia

Real Madrid Fouls Committed vs Valencia            http://www.squawka.com

The graphic highlights one other issue. Madrid were extremely good at not conceding fouls in and around their penalty area. Only two of the above fouls could really lead to balls being whipped into the penalty area. The remaining fouls were committed too far away.

Second Half

Valverde made one change at half time with Barragan replacing Fernando Gago. With Barragan moving into right back, Ricardo Costa went into central defence and Victor Ruiz was pushed forward into a defensive midfield position.

The key concern for Valverde would have been to avoid a real hammering which was a realistic possibility at half time.

The move solidified Valencia and they created a number of decent openings with Piatti striking the cross bar from just outside the area. Madrid though, had stepped down a level by this point and the game game drifted towards it’s inevitable conclusion.

Conclusions

There is much for Valverde to ponder over prior to Madrid returning to the Mestalla for the second leg of their Copa del Rey tie this midweek. The tactician now has a decision. Does he believe that his side can go out and impose themselves upon Madrid to attempt to recover the tie or does he become more cautious, drop the defence deeper and play a conservative game as a consequence?

Was it really the high line which was the downfall of Valencia ? Osasuna played a similarly high line recently and secured a draw.

With Madrid increasingly using the counter attack again, a deeper defence could allow Valencia to control possession and the game but the problem then remains of how to support Soldado in attack.

For Madrid, at least Mourinho knows that his side are still capable of producing a high performance level even if he has seldom witnessed it this season. The pace and power of their attack was superb at times and will certainly deliver a welcome boost for the team particularly when they have often struggled away from home this season.

Osasuna vs Valencia

The reign of Ernesto Valverde at the Mestalla, for however long that may be, commenced with a hard fought 1-0 away victory in Pamplona against Osasuna. This was a poor quality game were determination, character and strength were valued more highly than any technical quality or skill.

Both Valverde and Mendilibar made numerous changes to their starting line ups from their previous games. Osasuna had four changes from the side that had defeated Rayo 1-0 at home providing their fifth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions during which time they had recorded two wins and two draws in the league to lift them outwith the relegation zone.

Valverde made six changes to the Valencia team that crashed 2-5 at home to La Real in a game which marked the end of Mauricio Pellgrino’s short stint in charge of Los Che. Amidst the changes due to injury and suspension, the most interesting alteration was the inclusion of Albelda who was recalled in place of Fernando Gago.

Low Quality

The quality on show during this match is aptly demonstrated by the very poor pass completion rates. Valencia completed just 265 passes from their total of 394 attempted (a success rate of 67%). The hosts fared much worse with a pass completion rate of just 59% as only 204 passes from 344 attempted found a team mate.

Too often passes went astray or were mis-controlled and the opposition gathered possession. With both teams pressing, short accurate passing was limited with long balls being more prevalent.

Osasuna are a side who are aggressive, play a high defensive line and press the opponent. You don’t expect them to have much in the way of possession or a high degree of accuracy as they look to play a quick, direct game. Following a summer of key departures, Osasuna need to fight for every point and rely heavily upon their home form. With players of a lesser ability in their team, they need to force opponents to play the game at their level and they achieved this during this match.

Valencia are still searching for a personality this season but there were signs from the outset that Valverde wants them to adopt a patient style with attacks being constructed from the back. Against such a spiky opponent, it was perhaps wrong to try and instigate such a change in style. The side never looked comfortable when Alves went short to instigate moves.

Goalmouth incident was also at a premium in this game. From a total of 21 shots at goal from both sides, just six hit the target. Neither team had the ability to craft out chances with limited action in either goal mouth area as can be seen from the two heat map graphics below:-

Osasuna Team Heat Map

Osasuna Team Heat Map                                                http://www.squawka.com

Valencia Team Heat Map

Valencia Team Heat Map                                                  http://www.squawka.com

What must concern Valverde, even this early, is the need to link the midfield and attack to prevent Soldado being isolated. Banega cannot play too high, he needs to be on the ball in the midfield area. Either Jonas must start, when he is not suspended, or the wingers must become more inverted and reach Soldado quicker to offer support.

Osasuna Approach

Osasuna tried to move in behind Guardado at left back. As a converted winger, Guardado is more comfortable moving forward and sought to do so as often as possible with the result that Osasuna hit more long balls into the channel behind him for Lamah to try chase.

On the occasions that the pass was productive and Guardado was caught higher upfield, Albelda offered excellent defensive cover. Although he is firmly in the veteran stage of his career, the midfielder still has qualities which can be useful in games such as these. Albelda is not one to pull out from a tackle.

The high defensive line that Osasuna employs requires their keeper to be comfortable moving off the goal line as and when required to clear balls over the top. Twice Andres Fernandez was called into action, leaving his penalty area to clear the ball. The graphic below shows this and also how he often brought the ball out from his area before launching a long ball forward.

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia                                  http://www.squawka.com

Fernandez played just one short pass to a team mate in the entire game. Although Fernandez may concede possession as often as Osasuna retain it with his long kick outs, Osasuna will compete for the second ball as they push up and squeeze their opponents. Territorial gain is greater than possession for Mendilibar.

Valencia Set Up

Valverde retained the 4-2-3-1 style formation which Valencia have used this season but it was noticeable how the team lined up when keeper Alves had possession. Both centre backs were splitting and Albelda was dropping deep, not quite between them but sufficiently positioned to act as as auxiliary centre back. The full backs pushed very high to form a line of four across midfield with Fehgouli and Piatti flanking Roberto Soldado in attack.

The approach gradually fizzled out as Osasuna repeatedly pressed high forcing more longer passing from Valencia and partly due to the positioning of Valencia being correct but not compact enough. The team needs to be positioned to allow shorter passing if they are to build from the back and must offer greater movement. If Rami or Ricardo Costa received the ball in this game, only Albelda was relatively close.

Does Valverde have the players at his disposal to implement the system that he wishes to use?

The only goal of the game was scored by Soldado and, in some respects, the goal was fitting of such a poor game. Piatti made a good run down the left but is cross was poor and was moving away from the waiting Soldado before it struck the inside of the post and rebounded out to Soldado who blasted home from a few yards out.

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna                                                     http://www.squawka.com

Soldado struck the target with three of his four shots but as highlighted above, he is often isolated and left to cut a forlorn figure in the Valencia attack. Someone has to break from the midfield to support him.

Valverde achieved in his first game, that which had eluded Pellgrino all season; an elusive away league win. The manner in which it was achieved was not particularly stylish or even enjoyable but it’s three points on the road.

Mendilibar and Osasuna will likely feel harshly treated. There was little between the sides and a draw would have been fair. The issue from Osasuna is scoring goals. With the departure of four of their five top scorers from last season, the men from Pamplona need to begin scoring and quickly. The veteran striker Joseba Llorente is probably not the answer but Mendilibar has few alternatives. Just 12 goals scored from 15 league games tells the story. Defensively they are quite sound as they have conceded just 16 goals. As is so often the case, for Osasuna, the first goal in a game is completely crucial.