A sideways look at Spanish football
As Mauricio Pellegrino looks around at a packed, excited Mestalla on Tuesday night, a stadium packed to the rafters with enthusiastic, loyal fans and watches his feisty Valencia players troop out to take on Bayern Munich, there must be just the one thought going through the Valencia coach’s mind: “blimey, I’m still here.”
LLL has been convinced every weekend the jig was up for Pellegrino – nothing personal and all that – but somehow, Valencia do just enough to keep his barbecue-loving bottom on the bench, despite the side lying in eighth place in la Primera, 13 points off Atlético Madrid, the kind of side the east coast club should be competing with.
Indeed, Valencia have only managed this lofty spot due to the team’s home form. On the road, the Mestalla men have only picked up two points, the second worst record in the division. At their own ground, it’s a handy five wins and a draw from six. But even this disguises the reality that the opponents in those wins – Atlético Madrid aside – were hardly world-beaters: Celta Vigo, Zaragoza, Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol. In Saturday’s match, Valencia were reliant on a late and incorrectly awarded penalty for their victory against the still-fuming Pericos.
Mestalla: Home sweet home, for once
To be fair, Valencia are top of the table in their Champions League group, thanks to a couple of victories over BATE and a home win against Lille. But LLL has a feeling that situation won’t last much more than a few hours, with the mighty Bayern Munich coming to town and looking for a victory to seal the deal for the qualification for the next round.
Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes very politely swatted away the notion that Valencia are little more than Roberto Soldado (when on form), opining that “he’s a great goalscorer, but there isn’t just him. Valencia also have other dangerous attacking players, such as Feghouli and Guardado.” Meanwhile, Pellegrino also did his duty with the playing-for-the-win bit: “We won’t be going out for a draw because we have the chance to finish first, which would be fantastic.”
There’s a Valencia link in tonight's other Spaincentric Champions League clash, what with Unai Emery trying to make it 15th time lucky as a coach by beating Barcelona. One of the blog’s all-time favourite people ever, the king of the pitch-side squatting and pointing is now in charge of Spartak Moscow, whose main tactics for beating Barcelona appear to be having an artificial pitch and relying on it being a bit chilly. “We need to look at where to find their weaknesses,” mused Unai, rifling through pieces of paper. “The statistics show that it’s there.”
Emery: "Fingers crossed, double-eye-poke, and we'll win!"
One of those soft spots for Barça is that the side doesn’t have a great record on Ruskie soil, with just one win from six European games – that victory back in the 2002/2003 season during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Still, Tito Vilanova is still rattled by the Celtic business and pointed out that “Emery always gives us problems” when quite clearly he doesn’t.
With Wednesday featuring Real Madrid at Man City and Málaga schlepping to Zenit, the blog feels that there is a decent chance that there won’t be a single win for a Spanish team in the Champions League this week, with Valencia and Barcelona leading the way on Tuesday night.
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