Last week, thousands of people flooded the streets and squares of Valencia in celebration of the annual tradition of Las Fallas; five days of constant cacophonies and marching medieval men and women pulsing through the city. Yet, it wasn’t only the streets that were full of noise. The grand and delicate framework of the Estadio Mestalla shook thrice as Los Che cruised to a 3-1 victory over Alavés to boost realistic hopes of Champions League qualification after a painfully long absence from Europe’s premier competition.
Indeed, on the pitch, Las Fallas arrived early. An inspiring opening to the season exploded following a poor run of form towards the midpoint of the campaign. Any pipe dream of the La Liga trophy virtually shattered, and a plunging lack of confidence within the team threatened the prospect of a top four finish.
But, now the tides have turned once again, and six wins from a possible seven have resurrected a season that was at risk of evaporating. Valencia fans have become accustomed to seeing their side underachieve in the past five years, leaving a trail of disappearing managers and watching a brand of football unrepresentative of the club’s philosophy. Going back to the proverbial drawing board has been a common trend as bosses such as Nuno Espírito Santo, Gary Neville, and Cesare Prandelli have failed to reinvigorate a club falling to its knees.
Now, we see a much more stable picture with a manager in the shape of Marcelino who has calmed the choppy waters and fostered arguably the most dynamic team since the heady days of Pablo Aimar, Rubén Baraja, Pablo Albelda and what was a team of real panash in European football. Curiously, one of the goals at home to Alavés was reminiscent of a famous team goal scored by Aimar against Liverpool in the Champions League. On this occasion, it was Simone Zaza and Rodrigo Moreno involved, finished off by the latter, and a sign – albeit against a struggling side – that the Valencia we know and admire have not vanished.
Marcelino’s men are playing with a freedom and belief that is in stark contrast to more recent Valencia teams. Portuguese midfielder Gonçalo Guedes has been a revelation alongside the physical presence of Geoffrey Kondogbia at the heart of the team. Starting Guedes from a wide position and allowing him to float across the midfield line has added fluidity to the team. On loan after an unspectacular spell at Paris Saint-Germain, he’s developed into a player now fighting for a place in his country’s squad for this summer’s World Cup. Coupling two strikers together has also allowed for a more attacking approach, with Rodrigo and Zaza complementing each other nicely, as well as Santi Mina who has shown maturity beyond his years when being called upon.
At this point in the season, a top four finish would mark a clear improvement on previous years in what is looking like a more coherent club. Valencia is within one point of Real Madrid with nine La Liga fixtures remaining, and with the wind firmly in their sails, they will fancy their chances of snatching third spot. More importantly, Valencia is on the cusp of achieving some managerial stability, something the club has dearly missed. Much akin to the aftermath of Las Fallas, Valencia is now entering the calm after the storm.
Valencia’s next La Liga fixture is away to Leganés.