Forget bats; Valencia are UEFA's dark phoenix
Background image: BackFire, CC BY-SA 3.0
Top clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are still fighting to become a strong force to be reckoned with in European football. But Valencia has reached seven major continental finals and won four of them. On the domestic scene, the club has won six league titles and several domestic cups. Such a club cannot be seen as a pushover both domestically and across Europe.
However, performances by the club in recent years in all competitions have not been up to par. The last few years have been a struggle to keep up with the big guns in the league as Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid runs the show. Yet, the club has not stopped fighting. But it is the appointment of Marcelino that is now yielding the right results. Still not in a position to challenge for the league title or the Champions League trophy, the side is doing the next best thing; securing a top-four finish and playing in Europe.
A strong showing in the Copa del Rey this season has added to that achievement. Facing Barcelona in the final means the team may not win it in the end, but just being there provides the needed confidence to do even better next time. Reaching the final and fighting for a top-four finish is a huge achievement already as the team started the campaign quite poorly. The first part of the season was well below par as the team battled to escape from the lower part of the table.
Failure to make it out of Group H in the Champions League meant it was an early exit from the competition. Juventus and Jose Mourinho's then-struggling Manchester United advanced from the group. But the Spanish outfit did enough to finish two points short of the English giants and proceed to the Europa League. However, as if by the wave of a magical wand, the turn of the year has brought with it a totally different Valencia.
The side has been a different beast in all competitions grinding out results even in the most difficult situations. The team dispatched Krasnodar in the Europa League Round of 16, then saw off fellow La Liga side Villarreal in the quarter-final. A date with Unai Emery's Arsenal now awaits in the semis. Not bad for a team that started the season battling for survival.
Speaking about survival, one side that knows a thing or two about relegation dogfights is Getafe. But the Azulones have had nothing to do with relegation this term. Instead, Jose Bordalas’s men are making an unprecedented push for a historic Champions League qualification. As Barcelona, Atletico, and Real Madrid continue to hold sway at the top end of the table several teams have to battle for fourth spot. Sevilla and Getafe have been the frontrunners for the position but Valencia has emerged as a strong candidate in the last few months.
Drawing Getafe, then beating Sevilla in back-to-back games last month put Los Ches in a strong position to finish in a European place. But the job must be completed in the remaining four games. Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid means things could prove a little difficult with regard to beating the other contenders to fourth place. But they have their own problems as well.
Getafe will be the least likely of the trio to finish fourth. The Azulones have won just two of their last five La Liga games and are set to face stern tests in Real Madrid, in-form Real Sociedad, and league leaders Barcelona in their remaining five fixtures. Sevilla, on the other hand, has lost two of their last five league ties and will still face Atletico Madrid and Athletic Club in the final weeks.
That tips the scales hugely in Valencia's favour who will face Eibar, and Alaves at home, then Huesca and Real Valladolid away.
The team's run to the quarter-final will act as a source of confidence for the players who will fancy their chances against an inconsistent Arsenal. But whether or not Marcelino's men make it to the final, they have taken several steps forward from the Valencia of recent years. The emergence of players like club record signing Goncalo Guedes, Russian winger Denis Sheryshev, former Athletic Club man Santi Mina, and Rodrigo as big game players and match winners backed by midfield and defensive solidity means that there is a lot more to come from this group in the coming years.
Manager Marcelino has definitely laid the foundation for the club to emerge again as a strong force to be reckoned with in European football.