By Cillian Shields l @pile_of_eggs
Only a couple of decades ago, the Valencia regional derby meant nothing, but nowadays it is a hotly contested match between two sides rapidly moving in quite different directions. Villarreal came out on top in the duel 2-1, bringing them up to second in the table.
Villarreal represent the younger, upwardly mobile force in the area, an institution very well organised on and off the pitch, attracting top talent to join their ranks.
Valencia are in an almost total opposite state at the moment, with a manager calling for his own sacking because it would cost him financially to walk away, unhappy with the broken promises of no new signings coming in and an exodus of top class talent.
The crossover of former personnel in the teams added to the rivalry too, with Villarreal manager Unai Emery and goal scorers Dani Parejo and Paco Alcácer having spent significant periods of their career at the Mestalla. Given these names and their histories, Valencia fans will be seething at this derby defeat more than normal.
Valencia have only spent one season outside of Primera División since the 1930s, while just an hour up the road in the dusty and sleepy regional town, Villarreal reached La Liga for the first time in 1998 but have only spent two campaigns outside the top division since. Los Che have six league titles to their name, eight cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Cup, while the yellow submarine have never won a major honor in their history.
Turbulence in Valencia
Valencianistas and the club owners are essentially in open civil war, with regular protests against the ownership of Peter Lim and Meriton, and antagonistic decisions and comments from the club’s side towards the fans.
Last season, Peter Lim’s daughter posted the message to Valencia fans on Instagram that her family can “do anything we want” with the club, amid growing criticism, a comment that far from ingratiated the family with the fanbase. Earlier this season, the club forced the Valencia fans group association out of their base inside the Mestalla stadium, where the organisation had resided for the previous 25 years.
In the dugout, Javi Gracia is now at the helm. Valencia have let a significant portion of their strongest XI from last season leave during the offseason, including Rodrigo, Parejo, Coquelin, and Ferran Torres, much to the ire of their new coach.
Following the close of the transfer window, he requested an urgent meeting with the club hierarchy, demanding answers over why none of these first-team players were replaced. Having accepted that new players of a lesser quality would come in, but finding that no players at all arrived, Gracia pushed for his own sacking, knowing that if he stepped down himself it would cost him financially to the tune of a reported €3m. The club refused to let him go and Gracia remains in the job, with motivation levels surely plummeting.
“I was made aware from my arrival that the squad was undergoing construction, but I did not believe that there would be no signings whatsoever coupled with so many exits,” Gracia told Marca following the meeting.
Villarreal manager Unai Emery spent four years at Valencia, but despite three consecutive top-three finishes, neither side holds much love for the other. Emery was regularly jeered by Valencia fans who demanded even more from their team, while rubbing shoulders with one of the best Barcelona and Real Madrid sides of all time.
It was under Emery when Los Che had regular Champions League football to enjoy, with just Nuno and Marcelino bringing the team back to Europe’s top competition since, and for only one campaign each. Since his departure, Emery has been the thorn in Valencia’s side in Europe on more than one occasion. As recently as 2019, Emery’s Arsenal side swatted aside Los Che 7-3 in the semi-final of the Europa League, but Valencia fans will be even more embittered by what happened five years earlier.
After coming back from a 2-0 defeat in the first leg of the 2013/14 Europa League semi-final to lead 3-2 on aggregate in injury time of the second leg, Valencia fans were already goading their former coach. Stéphane Mbia had other ideas, though, and his 94th minute goal snatched the tie and a place in the showpiece final from Valencia on away goals. Emery’s celebration was far from subdued, almost maniacally running up and down the pitch, pumping his fists in the air and jumping into the arms of his colleagues and coaching staff.
Villarreal beat the team from their regional capital with goals from two players who made their names at Valencia – Paco Alcácer tucking away a penalty, and a wonder strike from long-serving Valencia captain Dani Parejo.
Parejo was one of the former Valencia players that the ownership wanted to get rid of as they believed he was rebelling against their stewardship of the club. Following him to Villarreal this summer was Francis Coquelin, in a low-cost double deal worth a reported mere €8m. The midfielder is performing well at his new side, leading the league in passes into the final third according to fbref with 46, with the most touches of any La Liga player this season as well.
Paco Alcácer managed 30 goals for Valencia in 93 games (69 starts), a run of form over three seasons that led to Barcelona shelling out for his services. A move to Dortmund followed before arriving in Villarreal. Elsewhere, Jaume Costa and Raúl Albiol are also hugely important players for Villarreal who have had stints at Valencia.
In the capital, while nobody was signed to replace the exodus, Javi Gracia is now relying heavily on young talent coming through from the youth team. Young players who have been around the first team for some years now such as Carlos Soler and Gonçalo Guedes will be expected to take a further step up this season, while youngsters such as Yunus Musa, Hugo Guillamón, Álex Blanco, and Lee Kang-in will also be given a lot more responsibility.
There is no doubt a lot of raw talent in the Valencia youth ranks now pushing for places in the first team, but Gracia wanted experience brought in to face what will surely be a grueling season.
After earning two wins and a draw in their opening four fixtures, Gracia showed he had the capability to steady the ship, but he’s since had his first serious clash with the club owners and the team have lost their last two fixtures to slide down the table.
Valencia are in a volatile situation at the moment. At their best, they could be capable of finishing comfortably mid table and even possibly fighting for a Europa League place if everything goes smoothly off the pitch and the right circumstances and conditions surround the squad to allow them to perform and grow as a potentially very exciting young team.
However, rarely are events as generous to a Valencia manager as to allow that, and Los Che could just as easily find themselves only a bad run of form away from the danger zone throughout this season.
An hour up the road, Villarreal could find themselves only a good run of form away from cracking the Champions League positions. After finishing 5th last season, the yellow submarine have brought in a much more experienced manager in Emery, who has led sides to Europe’s premiere stage and silverware before. His signing was a statement of intent from the club that have never won a major honor; they want to take a step up.
Both the score line and the ambitions for the season underline that the power in the Valencia region has shifted definitively toward Villarreal.
Rarer than a blue moon, both Real Madrid and Barcelona lost on the same day. The last game week they were both defeated in league competition and both held goalless was in 2000. Even rarer, a third of Spain’s Champions League sides were also beaten, as Sevilla were sunk in the Andalusian derby against Granada, meaning Saturday was a particularly great day for Atletico Madrid.
This game week, coming just off the back of a three-game international break, hints at something that could be a pattern all season. The biggest clubs, more international players in their squads will suffer even more than normal this year from international breaks.
With the season already compressed due to the delay in starting and having to finish at the same time to accommodate for the European Championships next summer means this campaign is going to be an utterly chaotic one. What would ordinarily be considered freak results – Cádiz beating Real Madrid, Getafe beating Barcelona – are likely to become a lot more common this season.
Stringing wins together may become that bit rarer as well this season. Real Sociedad are the only side in the league at the moment who have won their last two matches.
Added to this chaos is, of course, the virus. Numerous national teams had their preparations for games hampered by positive tests and close contacts being forced to isolate, all the while the world’s best players travelled across the globe.
Between now and Christmas, almost every midweek will see Champions League and Europa League games or more international fixtures. If last season was the strangest we’ve ever seen in our lives, this season is only going to top it.
The win for Granada was manager Diego Martínez’s 50th victory in charge of the club, while Diego Simeone enjoyed his 200th since taking the reins at Atleti.
Getafe changed their name this week, for this week only. Faced up against the giants of Barcelona, the side from the Madrid suburbs dropped the first four letters of their name and were known this week as “Fe FC” – which in Spanish translates to “Faith FC.” That faith held them in good stead as they beat Barcelona for the first time since 2011.
Huesca and Valladolid are the only sides left in La Liga without a win this season. They played each other this weekend in a game that, of course, ended in a draw. Sandro Ramírez scored against his former side with his first touch of a ball as a Huesca player.
VAR should, in theory, help decisions be made beyond doubt. How Real Betis found themselves with a disallowed goal from Antonio Sanabria and without penalty when the same striker’s shirt was ripped is quite baffling.
Y EN ESTO NO PITA PENALTI!!!!!!
@Info Real Betis –
The bombardment on Real Madrid’s goal from Cádiz in the first half was truly incredible, nine shots and one goal with just 29% possession. The Andalusians sliced through the champions’ tired looking defence with ease and picked up a well-deserved historic three points.
Athletic Club Bilbao’s new signing Álex Berenguer helped the Lions rediscover some of their identity after a tough start to the season with his first goal for the club. First Raúl García wins an aerial duel in midfield, then Dani García plays a half-volley into the space behind the Levante defence, allowing the winger to chase the ball, battle with Postigo, and send the ball into the far corner for 1-0. A brilliant afternoon’s work for the Basques was rounded off with Iñaki Wiliams finding the net for the first time in 15 matches.
Goal of the week: With any other result, the goal of the week honour would go to Valencia’s Gonçalo Guedes for his brilliant strike from distance that tied the game at 1-1. However, I like to also factor in importance into selecting the week’s finest strike, and as such Dani Parejo’s brilliant hit from outside of the box, pinging off the underside of the crossbar to beat his former side has to take it.
Image via Marca