Valencia’s struggles continue
The boos were not so quiet this time as the Valencia CF squad and their manager Gary Neville left the field after their 1-0 defeat at home against Sporting Gijón on Sunday.
Fans at La Mestalla grew impatient as they watched Valencia slide down to 12th place with only 25 points from 22 games played, 19 points from the 4th place Champions League spot and only 5 points from the relegation zone. It was Valencia’s first loss at La Mestalla in league play since 2014, further disappointing fans of Los Che.
Neville remains winless in the Primera División and is under intense pressure from fans and likely from Valencia owner Peter Lim. This loss was possibly the last straw in a terrible series of low scoring games in which Valencia failed to excite anyone with their boring play. Neville himself was frustrated with the performance, stating “I find it difficult to explain. I just sat there with the players and coaching staff for 15 mins trying to understand what actually happened on the pitch.”
Paco Alcacer has been injured and unable to play for three straight games now, and Neville is finding it difficult to replace his main striker. Alvaro Negredo has been Neville’s first choice in Alcacer’s absence, and he has picked up form recently but missed way to many open chances in recent games that would have put Valencia ahead.
Negredo missed numerous chances throughout the game versus Sporting, including a 1-on-1 with the keeper and two open-net tap-ins. It was an abominable performance for the former Manchester City striker.
The pacey winger Sofiane Feghouli was back in the squad after being out for two months, which allowed Valencia to work the ball up the right wing in the second half (when they didn’t punt the ball to Sporting’s keeper, that is).
In a questionable move by Neville, left winger Pablo Piatti was taken off despite presenting the most attacking threat against Sporting and creating the most chances. The decision to remove him in the 52nd minute was met with boos from Valencia fans who were eager to see a more attacking game than what Neville’s strategy allowed for.
Loanee Danilo Barbosa conceded a penalty in the 50th minute on a soft foul, which Sanabria slotted home for the only goal of the afternoon.
Alen Halilovic, the Barcelona player on loan to Sporting, was substituted on for Dani Ndi in the 77th minute. Halilovic played well, creating chances down the right wing and keeping the ball away from the desperate Valencia as the game drew to a close. Halilovic continues to do well with the ball at his feet, but his positioning off the ball needs improvement.
Valencia had 63% possession, but were largely unthreatening even when they dominated the first half. Valencia often resorted to passing the ball around at the back and in the midfield before eventually lumping it forward, especially in the final ten minutes of the match when desperation set in. This has been a common trend for Valencia since Neville took charge of the side, perhaps because it resembles the style of play that Neville was used to playing and analyzing in England.
Valencia also had 16 shots compared to only 7 from Sporting, but each team had only three on target. The weak attacking threat made for a mostly boring game, which surprised most Valencia fans considering Sporting is a struggling team and only one point above the relegation zone (which they moved out of with the win).
With Valencia continuing to struggle in the league, even against what could be a relegated side, Neville must do well in the Copa del Rey to save his job and his diminishing reputation.
Valencia face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Semifinal on Wednesday, and they need to advance in the competition to have any resemblance of success this season. The team didn’t look very motivated against Sporting in the league until the prospect of losing at home once again set in, so the players have to pick up the pace for the difficult midweek fixture.