Is Valencia retreating into familiar territory in La Liga?
Things are gradually taking shape in Spain's Primera Division. After four rounds, only three teams are winless; Leganes, Real Valladolid and Valencia. While the first two don't necessarily sound alarm bells, Los Che's presence does. Is the east coast club on its way back to its recent struggles?
Not that long ago, the Bats reached a crossroads Ten qualified managers failed to navigate them out of danger in five years. Frustration, financial problems, fan protests and flattery to deceive were regular sights at the Mestalla. Drastic measures were required. Marcelino offered to test his craft. Los Che offered oranges.
Owing to antecedents, faithful dreaded to dream. The board was cautious, too. Slow, patient development was the best plan. Spain’s fifth most-successful side had lost touch with the elites. Maintaining top-flight status was their new motivation.
Marcelino was confident. To him, Valencia resembled Villarreal, the club he had just rescued. There, he recorded three top-six finishes, including fourth in his last campaign. He built a legacy of winning more than his half games at every club. The Asturias native wasn't intimidated.
“We are going to work with the aim of returning Valencia to the highest positions in the league and making a competitive squad. I am a hard-working coach, demanding, I like order, discipline, commitment and passion are what drives me.”
Marcelino fulfilled his pledge. Valencia finished fourth, making a return to Champions League. The two Madrid bullies were only a win or two better. He left the Yellow Submarine 12 points behind. As much as success lit up the coastal city, its manner and pace were staggering.
With an expansive, counter-attacking brand, faithful were transported back to Rafa Benitez's glory days. Los Che was fearless irrespective of the opposition. Marcelino's emphasis on fitness kept his squad in the best shape at all times. He also displayed the flexibility to tweak the team and tactics at critical moments.
That is in the past. Dark forces return. The Oranges, who won eight their opening eight in 17/18 are regressing to the mean. They began strongly with a home stalemate against Atletico Madrid but followed it with a shocking defeat at Espanyol. Draws with Levante and Real Betis followed.
The pressure is mounting. Top stars are faltering. Neither Simone Zaza, Goncalo Guedes, nor Rodrigo match last season's form. The new arrivals appear lost in Machu Picchu. Michy Batshuayi, Kevin Gameiro and Denis Cheryshev are yet to produce any notable fruit. Injuries aren’t on vacation, though. Three first-team regulars are consigned to the physio.
Marcelino could do with a tactical tweak. His preferred 4-4-2 system exposes Los Che in the middle. Withdrawing an attacker for an extra body in midfield might tighten up the side. The players are frustrated but unbowed. Guedes, in particular, isn’t satisfied.
“We are doing things in the same way as before and we will achieve the first victory before long.“
If nothing is done, panic will ease into the cracks. In the two seasons before Marcelino's arrival, Valencia failed to win its first five matches. They’re on the verge of equalling that feat.