With the top European Leagues having a more than familiar look about them at the sharp end of almost every season, it’s not surprising that any club looking like it might break that trend should draw a lot of interest.
This year’s model could be Valencia who after a couple years of chaos, conflict and going nowhere under the ownership of Peter Lim have produced their best ever top flight start, more or less out of the blue.
Los Che have surprised everyone – even new manager Marcelino, who recently told the press
If you’d told me when I took over in May that we would be in this position I wouldn’t have believed it.
Twelfth in each of the last two seasons, Valencia have flirted between irrelevance and laughing stock in recent times.
Indeed, the former Villarreal manager became the eighth man to lead the team as either manager or care taker in the Singapore billionaire’s rein.
Instability, in-fighting and ineptitude on and off the pitch were all that were keeping the club in the news.
But serious changes over the summer have resulted in an incredible about turn.
A new president, new director general, new manager and new direction see Valencia sitting second in La Liga having gone eleven games without defeat since the start of the season.
Saturday’s convincing 3-0 victory over Leganes at the Mestalla was their seventh win on the bounce – a new club record.
Marcelino’s appointment appears key, as does the decision to give him the final word on recruitment and playing staff – responsibilities many of his predecessors were denied.
Known has a demanding, highly focused manager, he has ruthlessly pruned what many felt was an unwieldy, unbalanced and unmanageable squad, removing deadwood and negative influences.
Indeed, the summer window saw sixteen players exit, while seven were signed. Out went the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Nani and Enzo Perez.
n, amongst others, came Gabriel Paulista from Arsenal, who had played under Marcelino at Villarreal; goalkeeper Neto from Juventus; and Geoffrey Kondogbia and Goncalo Guedes on loan from Inter and PSG respectively.
Meanwhile, Simone Zaza made his loan deal permanent to become the club’s biggest summer outlay, signing from Juventus for €16 million.
What’s most striking about Valencia’s revival has been the fact that many of those who’ve arrived were seen as cast offs from other clubs or were loanees looking for game time or to rebuild a reputation.
In that regard, Zaza, Kondogbia and Guedes have been the most eye catching.
Zaza has been in incredible form. With nine league goals in 10 games, the Italian striker has been unrecognisable from the player we saw at West Ham.
Kondogbia also appears reborn in his midfield double pivot with Daniel Parejo. Valencia have an option to make the Frenchman’s loan spell permanent, an option they must surely act upon.
Guedes has been simply electric. The young Portuguese winger had struggled for opportunities at Paris Saint-Germain since his winter move from Benfica.
But his displays thus far show just why the Parisians paid over €30 million for the 20-year-old winger.
Three goals and five assists in nine appearances will have many scouts wondering whether PSG might consider parting with the player on a permanent basis.
But it’s not just the arrivals that Marcelino has invigorated. Players like the aforementioned Parejo, striker Rodrigo and youngsters Sani Mina and Carlos Soler, who were all at the club before his arrival, have also impressed.
Indeed, Rodrigo, who once had an unpromising spell on loan with Bolton Wanderers, has bagged seven goals in his ten appearances – already two more than he managed in the whole of last season.
All have benefitted from Marcelino’s direct, rapier-like football and profited from his straightforward 4-4-2 formation.
Valencia have averaged just 48% possession so far this season, underlining the success of the manager’s counter-attacking philosophy.
Los Che are not afraid of the football, but Marcelino doesn’t believe in passing for passing’s sake; he much prefers that the ball arrives in the danger zones in three passes rather than 23.
Valencia attack with dash, pace and directness – every pass seeming to carry them forward with menace.
Can they maintain their momentum? Well, the fact that they only have domestic matters to focus on will help.
nd with last year’s top four of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico and Sevilla all looking some way short of their best, a return to the Champions League draw next season is a realistic prospect.