Runs of form need context. We’re undefeated to start the year and have three consecutive clean sheets, but we have yet to play what I consider a truly good team and we have been very fortunate on the injury front. All of this is about to change.
First Raul Albiol went down for three weeks, then Moi Gomez bounced back from his knock only to sustain a long term injury. We reacted by putting in Funes Mori and sliding Toko Ekambi over to the left but Gerard got hurt for several weeks during a match with Celta. With a derbi looming, the plan had been to play Bacca up top and Toko on the left, but a training injury to Bacca means we now only have one senior 9 healthy with Javi Ontiveros the primary option on the left. Not exactly how we wanted the season to turn after a strong start.
The good news about our match against Celta is that we kept another clean sheet. The bad news is that we probably set a record for the dullest match in La Liga history. I’ve long maintained that in football, when both teams try to press the result is a match that is ‘choppy’. There’s not a lot of sustained possession, there’s not a lot of rhythm, there are a lot of fouls. That held true here.
I started the match trying to pressure up through midfield (with Santi on the pitch I don’t really dare press much higher than that). The possession disparity came in the second half when I sunk deep to invite pressure, hoping it would generate some fluidity in the match. Both our offsides calls wer in the second half so I don’t think the notion was entirely flawed but I also can’t say it worked. We’re still undefeated going into the derbi but I don’t know how confident I am.
El Derbi de la Comunitat
Gerard Moreno got healthy for this match at the last minute and I started him (with Toko on the left). I need all my experienced hands on deck for this one, though much to my chagrin I’m left with Ramiro Funes Mori starting at CB. Here are the lineups:
My experience against Athletic Club taught me that I need a ball winner at the DM slot against a 4411 so no Bruno for this one. I hope I won’t eventually end up with flak from the supporters for not playing him, but he’s just not a great tactical fit in what we’re trying to do, not mobile enough. Playing at the Mestalla, I figured going in our clean sheet record would be under threat.
And boy was it ever. I think the proper military term for what happened in this match was a ‘siege’. We didn’t see a ton of the ball, we didn’t generate much threat, we just hung on for dear life. The most alarming stat was the shots on target 9-1 in favor of Valencia. The one thing we did curiously well? Win aerial balls in our own box. Valencia tried 26 of them and completed only four.
According to the match report we committed 20 mistakes in this one, fortunately, none of them led to a goal. Somehow, I haven’t figured out exactly why, Santi Cazorla was granted man of the match, but as loathe a I am to say it I think Ramiro Funes Mori deserved it instead, though he did pick up our only yellow card, he also won header after header in the defensive box.
The two substitutions in this game for us came around the hour mark. I had pretty much figured we weren’t getting a goal out of this game, so I put in Iborra for Zamo and Mario for Pena, just to tighten things up a little, become a little more reserved, and ride it out.
Where we stand
After six matches, we’re fifth in La Liga. We are undefeated with at 3-3-0 and have a five game streak of not giving up a goal. Ahead of us in the standings are Real Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo, and Atleti, and our next match is against Los Colchoneros. It will be by far our toughest test yet this season, with Atletico listed as 5/4 favorites to win the match. If we can find a way to win, it will move us up into the Champions League places, but only time will tell if we can get that done.