On Saturday, Real Madrid host perennial banana peel, Valencia Club de Futbol.
Look, sometimes we joke about the correlation between Valencia and banana peels, but it’s way too real of an analogy not to hit home and strike the heart. It’s true that any team in La Liga can be a banana peel, but generally speaking, they are the small banana peels in Mario Kart that are tricky and can be avoided with some drifting; whereas Valencia is the big banana peel which takes up an entire race track — you see it a mile away yet you’re going to hit it hard no matter what.
During their last meeting back in February at the Mestalla, Real Madrid had no answer for Simone Zaza who turned into Van Basten. He will be suspended for Saturday’s game, but there is little doubt Santi Mina will channel his inner-Romario in Zaza’s absence.
Valencia is a ticking time bomb this season (and last) — something that Andrew Gaffney and I discussed a couple weeks ago on the Churros y Tácticas podcast — but they always do take a match against Real Madrid extra seriously. While the entire Valencia squad will look to morph into the Gargoyles on Saturday as they take the pitch, they will no doubt be fuelled by Voro who will transform into Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday right before kick-off.
Now let’s get to some real analysis. Valencia-based journalist Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) of Yahoo Sports UK helped us set the stage:
Kiyan: It's that time of year Andrew! The time that Dani Parejo morphs into Pirlo, and Valencia warp into a time-machine and unleash their inner golden generation from the early century. How much trouble do you think they'll give Real Madrid this weekend after losing to Sociedad at home?
Andrew: Valencia are a tough side to predict. No doubt there's been an improvement under Voro but with safety secured it's easy to take your foot off the peddle and relax. Let's face it, most of them were guilty of that for the first few months of the season! Can they give Madrid problems this weekend? Without a doubt. Valencia love to take a break from their crisis talk and become the 'spoilers' for other teams challenging for honours.
It'd be unwise to base this match on current form because, much like in a derby, Valencia tend to find something special when they play against the bigger teams. As you guys found out at Mestalla back in February.
Kiyan: The biggest debate in Real Madrid Land right now is the starting XI, and what it should be. As an outsider, which line-up scares you the most? The one against Depor, the one against Barca, or a hybrid of both?
Andrew: I suppose the diplomatic answer would be a hybrid of the two although it's hard to imagine Zidane doing that. The two sets of teams seem stuck in their respective roles and the idea of upsetting the balance in both XIs wouldn't be wise at the business end of the season. Both line-ups are packed with players capable of blowing any given side away, so there's no real 'easy' option out of the two.
From a personal standpoint I've enjoyed watching the 'B' team a lot more than the star-filled one. Maybe it's the desire of the younger lads to prove a point but whenever they've been handed a chance, they've looked ruthless. There's certainly a bond between them and a more visible fluidity to the shape and system. That isn't something you can say of the 'Galacticos' team which often appears disjointed but gets through on individual brilliance.
Kiyan: During the last Valencia - Real Madrid match; Real Madrid were very slow and borderline drunk to start the game. Valencia took advantage of some really bad transitional defending and scored early. How much do you think they try to get on the scoresheet early on this weekend; or do you think the approach will be more conservative at the Bernabeu?
Andrew: We're going back to Valencia's unpredictability here. I don't think they'll go into the match with any fear but Real Madrid will want to kill the game off early with one eye on the Champions League tie against Atletico next week. However, much like your own 'B' side, there's youthful exuberance on the part of Valencia which will kick in should Madrid appear sluggish.
Overall they'll probably look to sit back, frustrate Madrid, then pounce on the counter with pace. We all know that while Marcelo and Carvajal are solid in their defensive duties, more often than not the centre backs aren't. Barcelona's on-loan forward Munir will be desperate, I'm sure, to throw a spanner in the works.
Kiyan: Zaza -- who morphed into Van Basten against Real Madrid earlier this season -- is suspended for this game. How big of a loss is he given that he's the only pure striker in the team?
Andrew: He's a huge loss in terms of what he brings to Valencia. After his famous penalty run up and then a forgettable spell at West Ham, no one was overly excited when Valencia announced a deal for the Italian international. However Zaza has proven everyone wrong and the team is certainly stronger now that there's a recognized striker in it. Quite how the 'planning' meant there wasn't a striker before his arrival is another matter altogether.
Yet this is probably a good game for him to miss. Valencia chose to go with pace on the counter away to Barcelona and they would've likely set up the same way even if Zaza was available. Expect Munir to lead the line instead -- and he scored against Barcelona too, remember.
Kiyan: We discussed this on the Churros y Tácticas podcast a couple weeks ago, but for those that didn't listen, can you summarize how important Orellana has been? How likely are Valencia to bring him back next season?
Andrew: Fabian Orellana was, and is, the type of signing Valencia should be making. Top quality at an affordable price, similar to how Sevilla operate. Although I would like to state that Valencia have a much more successful academy which is what the core of the team needs to be made up of.
Orellana has been pushed out wide by Voro at times but is definitely more dangerous through the middle. With Cancelo suspended it might mean that Carlos Soler remains out on the right with Orellana on the left, but both will remain quite central. They'll need Orellana's creativity on the counter as well as making those late runs into the box.
The word going around Valencia is that the 'loan' deal bringing Orellana to the club is essentially a permanent one. These types of transfers are becoming more common in Spain as clubs look to push payments to the following season to avoid La Liga's strict financial rules. Orellana will definitely be at Valencia next season.
Kiyan: When you look at this squad on paper, with Voro in charge, where should they be expected to be? Mid-table? Better? Worse?
Andrew: I think mid-table is about fair. There's a lot of talent in this Valencia squad but it falls down in certain areas and that means it isn't as strong as say the sides pushing for the European spots. The dismal, non-existent planning process meant they started the season with a handicap they could ill afford. Voro has undone a lot of the damage but he isn't seen as the leader of this project and will be replaced at the end of the season.
The defence was a mess until Garay arrived although I personally believe Mangala has been the better of the two. In midfield Enzo Perez's done well but injuries and a lack of form meant the team was without a genuine defensive midfielder a lot of the time. And, as we previously mentioned, no striker at all was criminal on the part of Suso Garcia Pitarch's tenure at the club.
Kiyan: Call it.
Andrew: I think it's going to be tougher than most expect but if Madrid grab an early goal they should be able to see this out quite comfortably. Valencia's best bet is to frustrate the team, and the home crowd, and hope to take advantage of any lapses in concentration. It's worth remembering that while last season's game at the Bernabeu finished 3-2 to Madrid, that was the only win for you guys in the last six league meetings with Valencia (two wins for Los Che, three draws).
Underestimate Los Che at your peril!