There’s no maybe about it – Valencia are back
Valencia fans have been cautious as to not get too far ahead of themselves this season. They are proud of their team again but know all about false dawns. Maybe it was just because the expectation level was so low before Marcelino was appointed? Or, as English fans like to say: a bit of ‘new manager syndrome’. The idea that whenever a coach takes over a team it causes an immediate boost in fortunes but that it isn’t always sustainable.
Yet the 4-0 crushing of rivals Sevilla is proof this is something more than simply a good run of form. No, there’s structure, fluidity and a noticeable style of play. The ability to control games, with a solid defensive base, then strike with such venom on the counter makes Valencia one of the toughest sides to face in Spain. The lack of European football is unfortunate but it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. There’s a good atmosphere in the camp as well. Even they know this could be the season they re-establish themselves amongst the elite.
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Whenever you pick out a player for praise you feel it’s an injustice to the rest of the squad. The overall performance against Sevilla was not only ruthless but professional. Every question which has been asked of this group – new and old – has already been answered. Sevilla weren’t anywhere near the level of Valencia. A rock solid defence, a creative yet tough midfield and a deadly attack.
For the originally pessimistic, there’s genuine hope. Is their aim Champions League or to be League champions? Could they become the ‘Tottenham Hotspur’ of LaLiga?
A dream start for Leganes
I’m not sure many people could’ve predicted the fine start to the season Leganes are currently enjoying. Last year they finished just outside the relegation places. In fact, despite their flirtations with the drop, they never actually dropped into the bottom three but did spend 20 gameweeks (out of 38) in 17th position.
But what a turnaround in fortunes for the little club who play at Butarque. Leganes sit in fifth place on 17 points. That is practically half of their total for the entire 16/17 season (35). With just two losses to their name, surprisingly against Getafe and Eibar, they are deservedly flying high. The key to survival is beating those you expect to be down at the bottom too and they’ve done that. Alaves, Malaga and Las Palmas yielded nine points for Leganes.
It’s a testament to the players and coach, Asier Garitano, as this dream run goes on. In his four years at the club they’ve secured two promotions and retained their status in LaLiga against all odds. A commendable draw against Atletico Madrid and a victory over Athletic Club shows Leganes shouldn’t to be underestimated.
Claudio Beauvue scored one of the goals of the weekend too. Charging forward he skipped past two challenges before powering it past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Even when they aren’t at their best, Atletico get the job done
It’s been a strange season for Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone. The transfer ban saw them miss out on adding Diego Costa to their ranks this summer. However, it also saw them keep hold of Antoine Griezmann. And much like last year it’s been an unimpressive start to the campaign as Atletico drift from superb to awful with consummate ease.
‘1-0 to Atleti’ is hardly a new concept but this wasn’t quite as comfortable as the hashtag would suggest. The strikers, on the whole, are yet to really click and this means they need to rely on their rock-solid defence. The problem is that defence hasn’t been exactly watertight either. All in all, it creates for a nervy atmosphere but hey, they’re picking up the results, so you can’t complain too much.
Where would Atletico be without such a fantastic recent history of goalkeepers? David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and now Jan Oblak is as impressive trio that most sides could only dream of having in their ranks. While the obvious transfer rumour next summer will be Griezmann switching LaLiga for the Premier League, it might be wiser to invest that €100m in Oblak instead. For someone who is arguably the best in his position, it might end up looking cheap in today’s market.
Luis Suarez has lost his mojo..
One of the key parts in the post-Guardiola success at Barcelona was the attacking trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. The ‘MSN’. You had the unplayable Argentine, the dribbling Brazilian and the lethal Uruguayan. But it appears this summer not just one of those three have left the Camp Nou, but two.
Neymar might be found running riot in a one-team league but Suarez is still missing. When people spoke about Ballon d’Or candidates it was unfair that Suarez didn’t get as much coverage as his other two teammates. Although he seemed quite happy to take a back step when it came to individual honours, towing the company line instead. That’s fine, but his goals were just as important as Messi and Neymar’s moments of magic.
But where are those goals this season? Ernesto Valverde is naturally a huge fan of his, even going to the point of alienating Paco Alcacer from match day squads. But Paco did get on the pitch against Malaga and Suarez wasn’t happy at being taken off. Although, truth be told, I imagine that anger is mainly at himself. Suarez had earlier missed an open goal. Nothing went right for him. Maybe a break would do him good?
.. and so has Cristiano
When you think of Cristiano Ronaldo, you think of goals; lots of them. The Portuguese superstar’s quality, like Suarez’s, isn’t in doubt but they have both become goal machines for their respective clubs. For Cristiano, it’s taking him longer than expected to get up to speed this season in a new system and after a lengthy suspension.
Last week I wrote about the 4-4-2 diamond not really working so far. Zidane tried something different with it being more of a 4-3-1-2 but the same problems exist. Cristiano doesn’t seem to work in a two-man strikeforce. Yes, chances are still coming his way but it’s much easier to close him down when his starting position is so central. He’s finding less space in LaLiga than he is in Europe and it’s beginning to frustrate him.
The open goal miss at Getafe last week was very unlike Cristiano. Against Eibar it was much of the same. Frustration at not getting the ball often enough or in the right positions, frustration at his teammates when a move breaks down and frustration at himself for not scoring. That doesn’t translate to the player not caring his side won. Of course he does, but we all know the pressure Cristiano puts on himself to perform in every game.
Ironically it was the man he famously got angry with for not passing to him, Gareth Bale, who he looked best alongside in the match against Dortmund. Maybe the key to getting the most out of Ronaldo, and this two-striker system, is the Welshman who originally came to replace him.
It was an unfortunate weekend for Pako Ayestaran and his Las Palmas side. In a league which loves to see people break records, Ayestaran has one no manager wants. His side’s 4-0 defeat at Villarreal saw him equal the LaLiga record for 10 consecutive losses as a manager. This includes seven during his short stint as Valencia manager and now his opening three matches at Las Palmas.
There’s not much to get excited about either, or cause for optimism. Three matches, 12 goals conceded and just two in their favour. The side looks lost, without ideas, and there’s no ‘new manager syndrome’ working its magic either. I wonder if they now regret the way they treated Quique Setien who is doing a fine job at Real Betis.
As for Las Palmas you sense it won’t be long before they change something yet again. By all accounts Ayestaran is a fine coach but there’s a major step up from being someone’s number two. So far, when you look at his venture into management, number two is quite an apt description of it.