Real Madrid have two games in-hand, and this Wednesday — in what seems like a trap game — they will get one of them out of the way. Yes, Real Madrid have beaten Valencia in five of their last seven games at the Mestalla, but they’ve also failed to win the last two -- and playing Valencia at any moment is dangerous, even if they are ready to implode from all angles.
To help us set the stage, I reached out to Valencia-based journalist Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC), who covers La Liga for Yahoo Sport Uk. We discussed Valencia’s new signings, their sudden ‘rise’ in form, and some of the turmoil surrounding the club.
Kiyan: Ouf, Valencia. Where do we start? What's it like been following the team this season?
Andrew: Emotional. There's been constant upheaval at the club ever since Peter Lim took over and it's leaked over into this season as well. A mixture of cheap options alongside those who are friends with people at the top surprisingly hasn't worked out. Pako Ayestaran should never have stayed on and Cesare Prandelli, while he might have won a few admirers for his passionate exit, also lacked the conviction to turn the situation around. With Voro it appears to have calmed down, thankfully.
Kiyan: Doesn't it make sense to just ride the Voro hype train and let him manage the team into next season? He's done better than everyone before him combined in the Lim era.
Andrew: I can't find any reason to suggest why he shouldn't still be in charge next season. He's been a fantastic stop-gap appointment down the years but you get the impression he wants the job now as opposed to keeping it warm for someone else. We often overlook Nuno's first season at the club which was superb but since then it's been one disaster after another. It's certainly Voro's to lose at the moment.
Kiyan: Does the situation feel helpless at the Mestalla? There doesn't seem like there's a sense of urgency with the board, and the transfer ideology has set this team back far. Will anything change, or will it take Lim walking away?
Perhaps not helpless, no, but it's certainly restless. Fans are understandably annoyed at the poor management from Lim and even Layhoon Chan, the club's president, has seen her stock amongst supporters plummet after a good initial impression. Football is a funny game and while the chips are down, casual fans will jump on the anti-Lim banner but should there be an upturn in results then those movements and protests will lessen. Although it's worth pointing out that the unrest at the club is purely down to the management and the complaints are justified.
I personally don't think Lim will walk away. He isn't a hands-on owner but I don't think he's ever pretended to be. Instead he prefers to form teams of people he trusts to manage his investment and Valencia are no different. Once the new stadium is built and should the club remain in LaLiga, then it might be the time to sell. Not now though.
Kiyan: Do you ever go back and watch film from the Mendieta glory days?
Andrew: Haha. There's already far too much nostalgia amongst fans these days so I don't see the point of going down memory lane when things aren't going well. Football was in a different place back then and it was easier to keep hold of players as well. The magical era at Valencia started by Claudio Ranieri, continued by Hector Cuper and which ended with Rafa Benitez is often overlooked by fans of other clubs and you never know what might've been had Valencia beaten Real Madrid in that Champions League final or Bayern Munich the year after. Of course it's worth remembering that local players made up the backbone of those sides and this one is sadly lacking in that department, although there's definitely talent in the youth ranks here.
Kiyan: So, this Wednesday Valencia face Real Madrid. I always joked that Valencia would miraculously 'figure it out' just in time to face Real, and somehow that's come true. Is this the best time for Valencia to play this game, given that Zaza and Orellana seem to fit seamlessly, and the team is in form?
I'm not sure it's ever a good time to play Real Madrid when you're near the bottom but Valencia will definitely be up for it. Los Che's record against your lot in general doesn't make for good reading as they've lost five of their last seven home matches in the league against Real Madrid but, in recent years, there has been an improvement with a victory and a draw.
Valencia are very much a work in progress and while there's been an upswing in form but there's still that capacity to crumble as they did against Eibar. Fabian Orellana has been a fantastic addition to an already bloated forward line but the jury remains out on Zaza who is taking a bit longer to find his feet.
The potential advantage for Valencia is that Madrid might rotate a little as you've got a heavy fixture list this month. Then again, Real Madrid's 'reserves' probably cost more than double what Valencia's current XI did so that's not much to go on!
Kiyan: Grade Mangala this season. To me there are moments you can see his potential shining through, and others where he is a walking disaster. Does his performances in the last few games give you hope?
Mangala is a strange one. Like you said he's had some great moments and some absolute shockers but I actually think he's been one of Valencia's unsung heroes under Voro. He had a nightmare against Las Palmas but his overall contribution to the side's newly found defensive steel is underrated. He'll probably always drop the odd clanger but he's shown that he cares about the situation with his effort and work rate out on the pitch. Against Eibar, when Valencia were 2-0 and down to 10-men, he was charging forward into midfield as the team looked to attack when so many went hiding. I'd give him a 'B'.
Kiyan: Would you say one of the team's main problems is the lack of a goalscorer? Santi Mina is 'nice', but you can't rely on him consistently. How much does Zaza (and also Munir's recent form), and Orellana's flair help with the lack of offense?
The striker situation is a farce. Much like I said Pako Ayestaran should've gone in the summer so should Suso Garcia Pitarch. I fail to understand how someone could come in and arguably make the squad worse than the mess he inherited. Selling Negredo made sense because he looked broken in terms of confidence but selling Alcacer as well? The idea Valencia got the better end of that deal is ridiculous because Munir isn't an out and out striker - nor is Mina. He's just another one of those wide forwards than Valencia appear to be collecting.
I find it bizarre Valencia would agree to a potential €20m move for Zaza - should be play 10 games for them this season they're obligated to sign him - while they won't activate the €18m it'd take to make Mangala's move permanent. Mangala could prove to be good value at that price whereas Zaza has never looked like being a €20m player.
Orellana has been superb. He knows the league, is technically brilliant and was a no brainer at €3m. But you're right, they lack a genuine striker. Mina's out injured now so there's really only Zaza to call upon but it was a massive oversight in terms of recruitment, much like the failure to bring in a defensive midfielder.
Kiyan: Will there be wholesale changes in the summer?
It's hard to tell. The club has yet to appoint a director of football and last week there were rumours Voro might be moved up to that position and his first task would be to find a new coach. It's all a bit of a mess. There aren't many 'stars' who they could sell in order to boost an already limited transfer pot. Joao Cancelo perhaps as Martin Montoya is clearly first choice. There are always rumours about Jose Luis Gaya, Dani Parejo and Enzo Perez as well. In the case of the former two I sense unless it's a huge offer both will stay, less convinced about Enzo. Valencia need a striker but if they spend €20m on Zaza then it's hard to imagine them signing anyone else for that position.
Kiyan: How will Voro set this team up tactically on Wednesday?
It'll be a cagey affair but I expect Valencia to start quickly and try to grab an early goal. Real Madrid have turned into quite the counterattacking side so they'll probably be happy to concede possession to Valencia then look to force them into mistakes, which can happen. The first goal is crucial as if Valencia go ahead then the Mestalla turns into a wonderful cauldron of noise and they'll fancy their chances. Should Madrid open the scoring then it's probably all she wrote as Valencia will see Alaves away as more winnable.
Gaya looks unlikely to be fit so Siqueira will be at left-back. The rest of the team will likely be the same as in the previous two weeks: 4-2-3-1. Mangala and Garay in the middle with Montoya at right back. Parejo and Enzo shielding the defence with Nani, Orellana and Munir just behind Zaza.
Kiyan: Playing Valencia always seems like a trap, regardless of Valencia's form (see: Barcelona getting lucky against them earlier this season). What is your prediction for this one?
I have a feeling Madrid will win it but I wouldn't completely rule out Valencia grabbing a draw. It's a fixture that has a big game feel about it while in reality it should be a routine victory for Zidane's men considering the two clubs contrasting seasons. If you're not up for it, or rest people ahead of the trip to Villarreal, then you never know.