Valencia look a cut above Sevilla in La Liga’s race for fourth

The race for the presumed fourth spot in La Liga turned out to be a battle for 2nd this weekend – Sevilla started off gameweek 8 as closest to leaders Barcelona, but Valencia closed off Sunday night’s action in second spot following their astonishing 3-6 victory away to Real Betis.

Heading into the final ten minutes of Sunday night’s action, Valencia led an exciting Betis team 4-0 and in total control, before Joel Campbell came on to rattle all cages within reach.

In five minutes on the pitch, the on-loan Arsenal striker got a goal, an assist, and essentially forced a second assist that won’t show on the record books, to put Betis within a goal of levelling the contest out of nowhere.

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However, Valencia proved to have too much in the end for Betis to overcome. Simeone Zaza and Andreas Pereira killed the Andalusians off as they searched for a late equaliser to a crazy match that pitted two teams with clear identities going head to head in a fascinating encounter.

Real Betis have their particular style of play, with all their players encouraged to express themselves, keep possession of the ball, and look to craft opportunities with quick passing and movement.

Guided by their free-spirited coach Quique Setien, los béticos have began dreaming of glory once again for the first time in many years, after a series of drab disappointment led to an era of bouncing between the first and second division.

Even when they lose, they do it with style, and in a very fun way.

Valencia are – for the first time in years – not La Liga’s laughing stock, and that’s entirely thanks to one man that looks to have, in such a short time already, instilled his own DNA onto this team; Marcelino.

Discipline, strength, and counterattacking precision from a 4-4-2 define ‘Marcelino football’. In his time at Villarreal he formed them into one of the toughest teams in Spain to break down, and his Los Che side have retained a lot of that rigidness seen in Villarreal, but with more attacking expression.

Perhaps a year out of the game has given the manager time to evolve his own ideas, or perhaps more flair is demanded of his troops at Mestalla, but one way or another this Valencia team is one of the most exciting in Europe and a true contender to make next season’s Champions League.

Valencia hadn’t seen a drop of discipline or strength in their ranks since the days of Nuno Espíritu Santo, now managing Wolves in the Championship. In Nuno’s only full season at Mestalla, Valencia finished 4th.

Their first and third goals against Betis came from set pieces, exemplifying the hard work that Marcelino has used to turn transform this football club.

As the home side enjoyed nearly 60% of the total possession of the game, Valencia maintained their concentration throughout, before that late, bizarre five-minute spell of conceding three goals.

At least they kept their presence of mind to not allow another in, and instead score two at the other end of the pitch to close off one of the best La Liga games this season.

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To a man, Marcelino has his players performing at their highest levels.

Their midfield four looks to be one of the most dynamic and robust in La Liga, with Dani Parejo and Geoffrey Kondogbia marshalling the middle of the pitch, and 20-year-old wingers Carlos Soler and Gonçalo Guedes either side.

Captain Parejo sprays the passes around the pitch, while Kondogbia’s engine and power to get up and down the pitch makes them a sensational midfield partnership.

Both have an eye for goal and stay very strong without the ball too, and the entire midfield four unit holds the team’s shape and discipline, supporting the strikers in their pressing roles and countering up the pitch with lightning speed when the ball breaks.

Time and time again Valencia are showing themselves to be one of the best teams in Spain transitioning from defence to attack this season.

All the way up to the north of Spain, Athletic Bilbao recorded the only home win of match week 8 by defeating Sevilla 1-0. Sevilla are in a strange position so far this season where although they have won a lot of games, they have failed to look convincing in doing so.

Their wins have come against five teams currently in the bottom seven in the table; Getafe, Eibar, Girona, Las Palmas, and Málaga.

When they’ve come up against opposition in and around their own level, they’ve come up short.

Atletico Madrid looked a lot better than their fellow Champions League competitors and swept them aside 2-0, while this weekend Europa League-chasing Athletic Bilbao beat them 1-0 despite missing Iker Muniain, the man who looked to be somewhat carrying his team on his own back with impressive individual performances this season.

This weekend comes the very intriguing prospect of Valencia and Sevilla going head-to-head.

Valencia will have seen the success that Sevilla have enjoyed over the last five years, and must be cursing their owners from holding the club back, as that success and more could have been enjoyed at the Mestalla.

Finally, Valencia fans have a real team to back, and very real prospects of taking Champions League football from Sevilla.

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And also…

Atletico Madrid welcomed their first big league rival to their brand new ground, the Wanda Metropolitano.

Barcelona came led by a Messi that had just single handedly qualified for the World Cup, by playing in some of the most difficult conditions in the world to play football in, and travelling all the way from South America.

Atleti and Barca had clear ideas in how they were going to take the game to the other team, and neither strayed very far from their starting plan.

Simeone’s men entered the field like gladiators, battle-hardened, and ready for war.

Without the ball – around 70% of the match – they crowded the penalty area and offered Barcelona as little space to play beyond 20 metres from their goal line.

Often when pinned uncomfortably back, Gabi would drop back from midfield to make a back five, while Koke moved infield from the right and Correa joined the midfield line of defence. Simeone’s big game mentality was stamped across the pitch, in each of their players.

With the ball, mostly during the early stages of the game, they moved up the pitch quickly and looked to exploit space wherever it could be found.

Their plan must have been to wait for an opportunity to give them something to hold onto, and a special player such as Saúl can provide moments of magic that can catch opponents off guard.

Barcelona meanwhile look rather content with the 4-3-3 with the ball, 4-4-2 without, that they’ve displayed most of the season. Andre Gomes was the surprise inclusion in the role Dembélé would occupy, moving in between the lines of midfield and attack.

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Valverde’s men pushed and pushed, but found the resolve of los colchoneros stronger than anything else they’ve faced this season.

Valverde’s changes added a new dimension to Barca’s play, with Gerard Deulofeu making an impact off the bench, giving Atleti a different kind of headache to worry about, while Sergi Roberto was the man to provide the pass for Luis Suarez’s equaliser.

A fascinating contest that ended with a fair result, although had Barcelona been given another ten minutes to continue applying the same pressure they had been for the final ten minutes, all three points could easily have made their way to the Camp Nou.

  • There were nine different goalscorers in Betis 3-6 Valencia, and Sergio Leon also found enough time to miss a penalty, which would have made it 10 different goalscorers.
  • The nine goals shared between Betis and Valencia was the most goals ever scored in a league game in the Estadio Benito Villamarín.
  • Half way through October, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are finally off the mark on the La Liga scoring charts. Currently there’s no Real Madrid player in this season’s top 20 goalscorers.
  • Leganés have scored less than a goal a game, but are currently sitting happy in a Europa League spot thanks to a 2-0 win at rudderless Málaga.
  • Cedric Bakambu is turning into one of the revelations of the season. The Congolese striker is currently second in the top scorer charts after a brace against Girona this weekend. His numbers are all the more impressive considering Villarreal will feel their season only really got started after the sacking of Fran Escriba in late September.

La Liga week 8 results: Espanyol 0Levante, Athletic Bilbao 1Sevilla, Getafe 1Real Madrid, Alaves 0Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid 1Barcelona, Eibar 0Deportivo La Coruna, Girona 1Villarreal, Malaga 0Leganes, Real Betis 3Valencia, Las Palmas 2Celta Vigo

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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