It’s summer 2006. Valencia have just finished third in La Liga and plans for the ‘Nou Mestalla’, a 75,000 capacity stadium has been approved. It leads the clubs president Juan Soler to proclaim that the club will become, ’’the envy of Spain’’.
Construction commenced in August 2007. The board, with hindsight rather foolishly, decided not to pursue a buyer for the existing stadium, instead holding out hope that a better offer would present itself at a later date. The financial crisis would then rear its ugly head and plunge Spain’s construction industry into crisis causing potential property developers to reject the idea of buying the Mestalla site. The rope that had been afforded by the clubs financial backers began to tighten. Panic began to spread in the boardroom as the debt increased to a level that would have killed off most clubs.
Fast-forward eight years and the partially constructed stadium looms large over the Benicalap area of the city, serving only as a vacuous, concrete reminder that almost all football clubs are not recession proof. However new owner Peter Lim has provided a desperately needed cash injection and under the stewardship of manager Nuno Santo the clubs healing process is well under way.
They are now battling Atletico Madrid for third spot in Spain’s top division. The Rojiiblancos have taken Valencia’s position as the main challenger to Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance. Last season Diego Simeone’s men became the first team aside from Barcelona and Real Madrid to win La Liga since Valencia in 2004.
At that time the club was prospering with Rafa Benitez at the helm. They reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 (losing both to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively). They also won La Liga in 2002 (the clubs first in 32 years) and the league and UEFA cup double in 2004. Benitez soon departed for Liverpool however and the managerial merry go round began. Twelve people would occupy the Mestalla hot seat in the next nine years.
Despite the turbulence the club was experiencing off the field the team managed a number of successful seasons, finishing in third spot three years in a row, however in each year they were closer to the relegation battle than to the league title, although perhaps that says more about the strength of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the time.
Trophies however have eluded them. Since that League and UEFA cup double in 2004, just the 2008 Copa Del Rey has been added to the Mestalla trophy cabinet.
David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, Roberto Soldado and Isco are amongst a huge list of stars that were sold to service the enormous debt, reported to be almost €550 million at its worst. Had Los Che been able to hang on to these players, their squad would be truly world class.
An excellent academy and scouting network managed to keep the club competitive. However, as with any selling club, this tactic has a shelf life. They finished fifth in 2012/13, failing to qualify for the Champions League and after finishing eighth last season and without the revenue that Europe’s premier competition provides, the club was forced to explore their financial options.
After a protracted takeover process, Singaporean businessman Peter Lim emerged as the preferred owner, completing his much anticipated purchase of the club in October. He quickly began exploring the possibility of resurrecting the Nou Mestalla project.
It has been reported however that the stadium would require significant investment before building could begin again due to the site being exposed to the elements for the past six years. For the time being, these plans have been shelved, instead choosing to cosmetically revamp the current stadium.
Nevertheless things are significantly rosier on the pitch. Young star Paco Alcacer has recently signed a new contract, keeping him at the club until 2020. Academy graduate Jose Gaya appears to be another left back in the same mould as Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat. After spending this year on loan at the Spanish club, Alvaro Negredo will also complete a permanent move from Manchester City this summer for around £25m. Although it represents excellent business for the English champions, it is somewhat of a coup for him to be lured back to his home country.
New signings Rodrigo, Andre Gomez and Enzo Perez all appear to have settled in well at the club. Diego Alves has been as reliable as ever in goal and Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi and formed a good partnership at the heart of the defence.
A healthy balance of youth and experience has given the club a grip on that all-important fourth spot, a position that under Nuno’s direction they show no sign of relinquishing. Real Madrid, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have all been defeated at the Mestalla this season, with only Barcelona leaving Valencia with all three points thanks to a last gasp Sergio Busquets goal.
The timing of Juan Soler’s 2006 prophecy may have been wrong, but almost a decade later Peter Lim’s investment could provide the springboard for the club to embody that decade old vision.
Luka Modric could prove the perfect Emre Can replacement at Liverpool
The Croatian has been linked with a move to Anfield with Emre Can expected to leave this summer.
Emre Can looks set to be on his way out of Anfield this summer as the 24-year-old German international seems unwilling to sign a new contract at Liverpool.
Spanish news outlet El Gol Digital have recently linked Real Madrid with the German international, although they would have to fend off interest from European rivals Juventus.
Speaking to Sport 1, Can recently expressed his desire to be featured in the world team of the year at some point in his career.
For the 24-year-old, it would be difficult to turn down a club of Madrid’s magnitude and his departure would represent a blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Nonetheless, a swap deal for Real Madrid star Luka Modric would be a superb way to ease the pain of the German’s exit.
Reports linking Can with the Bernabeu come just a matter of weeks after Spanish newspaper Dario Gol expressed Luka Modric’s desire to leave the current Champions League holders.
The Croation international is reportedly keen on a return to the Premier League return, with Liverpool, along with Tottenham, named as front-runners for his signature.
Even at 32 years of age, the Croatian midfielder is still one of the best players in the world and would represent an excellent short-term fix for the Reds.
His brilliant passing range, his superb footballing brain, and his delicate skills are all crucial components that would boost Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Combined with a world-class attack consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, the Reds truly could stake a claim for the most dynamic frontline in England next season.
Most importantly, the addition of Modric could finally mark the replacement for Philippe Coutinho that many Liverpool supporters have been begging for.
A seasoned international with tremendous experience at the upper levels of world football would be a remarkable transfer for Klopp’s side, and would surely bolster their title aspirations in 2018/19.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.
A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.
However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.
Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…
Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends
But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.
That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.
As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.
Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.
The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.
Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.
Third time lucky for impressive Willian
The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.
But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.
It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.
He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.
Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.
It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.
Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?
Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say
It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.
Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.
Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.
However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.
A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.
Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.
It could be the decisive moment.
Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruña: Five talking points from Bernabéu
In Sunday’s post-match press conference, Zinedine Zidane said: “What changed today is the result, that we scored the chances we made, nothing else.” However, there is always a tale to tell, especially when it comes to Real Madrid and this week’s 7-1 thrashing of Deportivo de La Coruña was no different.
Cristiano Ronaldo made the headlines after taking a boot to the head when scoring a very valiant header, but it was Gareth Bale who got the standing ovation and was the reason behind a pervading brisk smile among the crowd.
He has played a significant part in the games in which he has appeared as a substitute this season and he was arguably the best attacking player Real had on the field last week against Villarreal.
After suffering from numerous injuries, the Welshman has managed to put his time on the sidelines behind him. He is currently the top scorer of the team with seven goals, despite missing out a handful of games.
With the league, all but theoretically over for Real Madrid, the hefty 7-1 win was important in many ways.
Real’s slump has put them 19 points behind arch-rivals, Barcelona, and they are currently sitting fourth on the table. The win, dare we say resurrection, over Deportivo La Coruna could mean a turnaround for Real Madrid.
Here are the five talking points of the tie…
Gareth Bale – the long-awaited return of the Welshmen
Real Madrid have had their fair share of creating chances in matches, half or full – they squandered them all. The quality of the chances was missing and misguided crosses were thrown to yield no results. Bale has brought the finishing-touch back to the team and his ability to run past defenders, creating space for an extra touch, has helped his side in scoring.
Bale, for the first goal against Deportivo, chested down the ball, took a touch and curled it around the defender past the goalkeeper – a famed finish he has personified over the years. He dominated the flank and his understanding with Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric was transparent. Meanwhile, his second reminded the hosts how they have missed him in the air.
For a team like Madrid, with players like Ronaldo, Ramos, Casemiro, Varane, and Benzema, scoring headers should be a norm. Although the case in the past, this term they have failed to replicate the same dominance in the air and the Welshman has reminded the crowd what he is capable of in this respect.
Squad rotation has played a massive role in Real’s recent triumphs and Zidane deserves credit for this. However, this season, the quality from the bench is not there. The contribution from the substitutes is lacking and their inefficiency to provide something concrete has let the team down.
Zidane stuck to his usual principles by putting out a B-team against Leganes for the club’s Copa del Ray clash, resting his star players.
Perhaps for the first time in the season, the squad looked fresher and near 100% if not fully fit.
This victory was a hard-earned one – Marco Asensio’s beautiful finish averted the eyes from an awful performance, but they managed to get the result.
That allowed the ageing squad members to take a breather and the performance against Deportivo was the subsequent result.
Lucas Vasquez and Mateo Kovacic were substituted and since contributed to the win, with the former providing an assist and the latter holding up the ball masterfully during the counter-attack, finished by Modric a few seconds later.
A comeback for BBC
The decision to switch back to 4-3-3, with no Isco on the field, asserted the fact that Real is a better side with a front three, instead of a no. 10 behind two strikers. Due to various injuries, it had been more 270 days since the famous trio were in action and it is clear that Madrid have dearly missed them.
Borja Mayoral started up front against Deportivo, only to be substituted by Karim Benzema, who has recently recovered from the injury. 4-3-3 resolved the issues Real were facing with a 4-4-2 diamond. The overlapping runs were seamless and during the transition, it was easy to defend. What that means for the future Isco is a separate debate.
The midfield three
It has been quite a while since fans have seen the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos in full swing. As glamorous as it was, the link-up play had become damaged and Casemiro’s defensive cover was not proving up to par.
Against Deportivo, however, they were back to their brilliant best.
Casemiro bossed the game, winning seven balls, while weighing with a 92.3% pass success percentage and a brilliant lofted cross that was buried into the net by Ronaldo. He has been labeled as Claude Makélélé of Zidane’s Madrid – rightfully so, as well.
The link-up play between Kroos and Modric was also improved. The former didn’t suffer defensively, like he has done in his recent outings and his confidence seemed restored. Meanwhile, the latter scored a screamer, while proving his understanding with Bale is far greater than that with either Lucas Vasquez or Marco Asensio.
The big guns fired for Real Madrid, as Bale and Ronaldo both scored braces on Sunday, but the fact is that victory came against a struggling team – although Real needed a win like this to make a statement and build some momentum before the Paris Saint Germain showdown on Valentine’s day (you can predict this result with M88 betting in China).
In hindsight, the defensive frailties are still there to solve. Raphael Varane is solid, almost, and the Frenchman is having a great season. A downside to his game is his partnership with virtually anyone but Sergio Ramos – who is out due to injury.
In Ramos’ absence, Nacho Fernandez comes in. As good as they both have been individually, the understanding is not there – at least not yet.
Marcelo has improved his attacking play. He is great going forward but the concern is still there when it comes to tracking back, especially when the likes Neymar and Kyliann Mbappe will be running the show down the flanks.
Against Deportivo, Dani Carvajal had a solid game after some time and Nacho was undoubtedly the best defender of the night – scoring two goals and cleared one off the line with a brilliant sliding tackle.
A win like this could definitely boost the morale of a team which has been underperforming quite significantly. However, Real should not get too complacent with the victory as the tougher fixtures lie ahead.
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