Valencia cast-offs blowing away La Liga

Valencia celebrate

All eyes will be on La Liga’s top-of-the-table clash on Sunday night as Valencia – on an eight-game winning streak and inspired by the sparkling Goncalo Guedes – host league leaders Barcelona, who have dropped only two points all season. Something will have to give at the Mestalla but should the home side avoid defeat, nobody will doubt that they form part of the league title race.

It is a remarkable turnaround at Los Che, who have finished 12th in consecutive campaigns. This time span included five managers, a revolving door of players and total chaos and instability both on and off the field. Singaporean owner Peter Lim – who had acquired the club three years earlier – was under serious pressure to either quit or overhaul the club and build a structure to end the underachievement.

 

The rebuilding job began with the appointment of Lim’s compatriot Anil Murthy as president, but the major move was finally landing the manager who had previously eluded them. The club, under the direction of general director Mateu Alemany, had wanted Marcelino Garcia Toral a year earlier but were denied by league rules. The tactician had steered Villarreal – Valencia’s regional neighbours – back to the top flight in 2013, while recording three consecutive top six finishes and a Europa League semi-final.

He was surprisingly dismissed on the eve of the 2016/17 campaign but La Liga ruled he had effectively managed Villarreal that season, meaning he could not join another top flight club in the country. His appointment at the Mestalla was a long time coming, ensuring he and Alemany moved to make up for lost time. The summer transfer window saw seven arrivals while 16 players departed a bloated first-team squad.

The newly-trimmed ranks now prioritise quality over quantity, with players starring having struggled elsewhere. Norbeto Neto, Gianluigi Buffon’s understudy at Juventus, has thrived while Gabriel Paulista and Jeison Murillo – who struggled to adapt to life outside of La Liga – have formed a formidable central defensive partnership.

Deep-lying midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia is enjoying a rich vein of form in helping the side build from the back after a loan move from Inter and Andreas Pereira, borrowed from Manchester United, adds flair, creativity and ingenuity in the final third. Guedes has been in sensational form since arriving on loan from PSG – where he could not consolidate a first-team spot – and Simone Zaza (signed six months earlier), whose confidence plummeted at Juventus and West Ham, has already hit nine league goals, behind only Lionel Messi.

This side of cast-offs has sparkled, hitting 32 goals and garnering 30 points in an unbeaten opening 12 game run. They hit Real Betis for six, scored five past Malaga and netted four past Sevilla, while they drew at the Bernabeu and held Atletico Madrid. If they can go one better against Barcelona, the will start to dream of a first title in 14 years.

Barcelona continue to win in La Liga

Following Neymar’s controversial move to French side Paris Saint-Germain, many fans and a number of pundits expected Barcelona to struggle. It was not only about Neymar’s departure but rather the sense Barca have reached the end of a winning cycle.

The squad needed reinforcement, in particular in defense and midfield, and once Neymar jumped ship, it was evident the attack was in need of fresh faces. Last season, Barca were humiliated by Juventus in the quarter-final of the UEFA Champions League while bitter rivals Real Madrid triumphed in La Liga, forcing the Catalans to settle for the least prestigious of the three competitions- Copa del Rey.

Neymar

With Real Looking better and stronger as the season went on, Barca had to settle for 2nd place during the 2016-17 campaign. All indicators pointed to an easy run for Real in the 2017-18 La Liga campaign yet so far the Madrid side has struggled to impose its will on opponents while the Catalans have managed to win all their 7 league matches.

Barca top the table with a full 21 points while Sevilla rank second with 16 points followed by Valencia and Atletico Madrid with 15 points. Reigning champions Real are in 5th with 14 points. Thus, Barca have a 7 point lead over rivals Real.

It is not easy to single out one main reason or even a couple of reasons behind this gap between Barca and Real. From Real’s standpoint, the situation has been fairly tough with injuries depriving manager Zinedine Zidane from key players such as Marcelo and now Dani Carvajal. Add to that the fact superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was suspended for the first 4 league games and the reasons behind Real’s struggles become more evident. In his 3 league matches so far, Ronaldo has struggled with his scoring touch deserting him. He failed to score in over 270 minutes of league play.

Going to Barca, the departure of Neymar has ironically seen left-back Jordi Alba perform better, he already has 3 assists to his name this season while he managed 6 assists over the entire league campaign in 2016-17. It could be a case of Alba having more space to attack on the left side now that Neymar is gone.

Defensively, Barca have looked solid so far conceding just 2 goals after 7 games in La Liga. That is the defensive record in Spain so far. While some did not welcome the signing of midfielder Paulinho, the Brazilian has done a fairly good job since joining the Catalans. He has already registered two goals and one assist proving he is working diligently to settle down quickly in Barcelona without showing any ill signs after his move from China.

Luis-Suarez-wears-jersey-number-9-at-Barcelona

The one disappointment from Barca’s season so far has been Luis Suarez with the coach opting to bench him at times after his very slow start to the current campaign. Neymar’s departure has not necessarily translated into more shots or touches for Suarez. In addition, the Uruguayan star has struggled to find his scoring boots.

Finally, no one is forgetting about Lionel Messi who has been in exceptional form during early in the season. He carried Barca to a precious 3-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League scoring two goals himself. In the league, Messi already has 11 goals and 2 assists in just 7 games. The only blot on his remarkable record being a missed penalty-kick against Alaves though he still managed to score twice in that match. Barca fans and his teammates will look to him to lead the quest to regain the Spanish League title!

Do not forget to check the best La Liga fantasy football site www.fantasy-liga.com.

Manage your favorite Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla stars using our Mobile App https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.global_multimedia.fantasy_laliga&hl=en