Sunday was a day for the four Valencian Community clubs in La Liga to take center stage.
The Levante-Villarreal match has been chronicled elsewhere on this site, but apart from the goings-on on the pitch, mention must be made of the 1600+ Villarreal supporters who draped themselves in yellow, brought flags, banners, and drums, and turned one corner of the Levante stadium into the similar corner at El Madrigal. Marcos Senna and Javi Venta were among those enjoying the action.
Marcelino noted the obvious--the match turned on the early penalty and sending off. Not only did Levante lose Kaylor Navas, who had been playing well in goal for them, but Xumetra, one of their more creative players, was withdrawn in order to bring on reserve keeper Jimenez. And shortly afterward, Diawara had to go off with an injury. It just wasn't their day. Villarreal remain a point ahead of surprising Athletic Bilbao, who won at Malaga, in fourth place.
As Sidarth remarked, those of us on the other side of the pond shouldn’t be the ones Tebas is scheduling for--supporters in Spain should be. And clubs, too--of course this was a local derby, but Friday and Monday kickoffs and late, late weekend start times don’t work well for visiting supporters, and it’s the hosting clubs who miss out on valuable income (El Pais ran a story earlier this season about an Osasuna match where, effectively, the gates were opened for a total take of about €5000).
At any rate, Villarreal has beaten Valencia at home, and won at Levante and Elche, so at least for now, we can call ourselves Valencian Community champions. More importantly, our 27 points in 14 matches is, I hear, the best ever for a newly promoted side to La Liga, and we’re almost two-thirds of the way to "salvation" in the league.
It’s tempting to start thinking about Europe, if you haven’t already, but at least in public, no one is going there yet. But I will tell you the best ever finish in recent times for a newly promoted side was Mallorca’s fifth place finish in 1997-98, and Celta Vigo was the last promoted side to qualify for Europe (6th, in 2005-06).
Indulge me now as I talk about the other Valencian derby on Sunday.
Elche were cheated of revenue by having to host Villarreal on a Monday, but at least they got a bumper crowd for Valencia--30,000 showed up in the Estadio Martinéz Valero. Valencia brought 2000 of those folks, which Superdeporte seemed to feel was worthy of front-page treatment. Hopefully the visiting hordes didn’t take out their frustrations after Los Che’s loss on Elche’s stadium as they did at El Madrigal.
As a more-or-less neutral--OK, I was supporting Elche, but I wasn’t too concerned about it!--I must say the second half of this match was a treat to watch. (I missed the goalless first half.) It is easy to dismiss La Liga as "boring", and it is in the sense that the biggest-budget teams dominate everyone else, but I can’t help thinking much of that perception is due to the way in which the league is marketed overseas. It’s all about Barca and Madrid.
Which is a pity, because Elche-Valencia was absorbing. For the life of me, I can’t understand how Valencia can appear so fearsome for brief periods in a match--the speed at which they transitioned from defense to attack at times was breathtaking, and they can be physical in attack in a way that perhaps no one else other than Real Madrid can--and then just go limp. Perhaps it’s that their financial constraints have finally caught up with them, maybe it’s just players getting used to playing with each other, but for whatever reason, they just don’t seem to be able to put together any consistency.
Djukic is struggling to impose his style of play on the team, but the real problem, as we discussed on our podcast before they played us, is defensive fraility, surprising given his background. Perhaps it's a reflection of the players available, but also a lack of passion, or confidence. Given that Valencia’s success in the league has been closely correlated with defensive success, this doesn’t bode well for them.
You can watch the goals here (several times apiece). Elche went ahead through an excellently-taken header by Fidel, but the key to the play was the cross--Edu Albacar had absolutely no pressure on him and the Valencia backline watched the play. That goal, and the substitutions of Bernat and Postiga for Fede and Pabon (Los Che still have some depth up front, to be sure) spurred Valencia into action, and Bernat soon equalized.
But within 10 minutes Valencia's defensive problems surfaced again--again the goal was well taken, Cristian Herrera making a perfectly timed run and slotting the ball past Alves, but the key was again in the buildup--Fidel (I think) drawing four defenders to him, slipping a pass to Coro whose inventive chip caught the flat Valencia back four completely off guard.
Unai Emery’s Valencia might have probed and poked and at least come away with a draw, if not a late goal as well to win the whole thing, but Djukic’s Valencia seemed to lack patience. Passion they still have, confidence I’m not so sure about.
Mostly, though, I enjoyed the skill on display. Physicality, speed, technical ability--this game featured all of that. Would an EPL matchup of what are, at the moment, two mid-level teams offer the same? I doubt it. And what was really excellent for the neutral was at 1-1 seeing two clubs going for the jugular, going for the win. No "let’s take the point and get out of town" here. For that, I applaud both teams.
Returning to Villarreal (of course!!), let's note that Giovanni dos Santos trained normally today--all signs are he will be ready for Malaga after being held out for precautionary reasons on Sunday. Endavant!!!