As it stands now Valencia is second in the league, four points behind Barcelona.
La Liga, rightly so, has been labelled a two-team league with Barcelona or Real Madrid winning the title nine times in a row between 2005-2013. They’ve also won 67 of the 86 titles since the league’s formation in 1929.
However, this change in 2011when Diego Simeone was appointed Atlético Madrid boss. Not only was Los Rojiblancos able to break up the two team monopoly, they were able to finish above Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 when they won the title for the first time since 1996. Despite this, Atleit’s rise was gradual, but Valencia’s sudden surge towards the top of La Liga has defied all expectations.
Valencia have been in turmoil in recent seasons. Since the take over of Peter Lim in 2014, the team have gone from Champions League regulars to mid-table mediocrity. Last Christmas, Valencia supporters were genuinely worried about the prospect of relegation, with the side languishing in the lower end of the table. They had just 11 points after 13 games. They rallied but still only managed a lowly 12th place finish and their struggle wasn’t limited to just the pitch. In August 2007 work began on the Nou Mestalla but this was then put on hold just two years later due to the club’s financial troubles. To this day the new stadium remains incomplete.
However, this season has been completely different.
Marcelino was appointed the new manager in the summer; the former Sevilla and Villarreal (amongst others) manager arrived with vast experience and appeared to be the perfect man for the job. Over fifteen players left the club in the summer including Matt Ryan, Enzo Pérez, Nani, Álvaro Negredo, João Cancelo, Eliaquim Mangala and Munir. This allowed Marcelino to bring in his own players to replace much of the dead wood. New signings include Gabriel from Arsenal, Geoffrey Kondogbia from Inter and Simone Zaza from Juve. The latter two, in particular, have shone this campaign. French midfielder Kondogbia has been outstanding this season and has recaptured some of his early promise he displayed during his time at Monaco. Then we come onto Zaza. He’s netted nine goals in eleven Primera División games this term; only Lionel Messi has scored more. All of this upheaval was achieved with a net spend of just €20.57 million.
Source: La liga (MediaPro) via DAMOSVCF
Marcelino’s tactics have been simple but effective, deploying an old school 4-4-2. The strike partnership formed between Zaza and Rodrigo has been used to great effect as shown in their recent game, a 3-0 win over Leganés, who’d only conceded 5 goals all season before their trip to the Mestalla. The other factor that works in Valencia’s favour is that they have no European football. This is something all of the other clubs currently in the top seven have to contend with. Could this prove crucial for Los Murciélagos title dreams?
Their title credentials will be seriously tested when they face current league leaders Barcelona on Sunday; the top two go head to head at the Mastella. Having already drawn with Real and Atleti, this game could give an indication whether or not Marcelino’s team are the real deal.
So Valencia have a new manager, they’ve got a previously written off striker bang in form, they have a new French central midfielder who’s finally fulfilling his potential, they play 4-4-2 and have no European football. Sound familiar? Even if Valencia did pull off the inconceivable it wouldn’t match the achievements of Leicester City but it would be La Liga’s own version of a fairytale for a club who have been rotting in mediocrity for the last few seasons.