The last two seasons of disappointment and uncertainty for Valencia seem a distant memory given their return to form this season. A disastrous 07/08 campaign saw ‘Los Che’ languishing in 10th position in La Liga, a finish that is even more unthinkable given that they had previously won the Spanish title in both the 01/02 and 03/04 seasons. The introduction of Unai Emery as manager last season improved things, and allowed for Valencia to gain their 6th placed La Liga finish which saw them scrape into the Europa League. Their progress on the pitch coincided with an improvement in their well documented off the field problems as their financial woes were eased.
Current Coach Unai Emery has masterminded Valencia’s success so far this season.
Under Emery, Valencia have gone from strength to strength this season and currently sit 3rd behind the leading lights of Spanish football Real and Barcelona. Things have been just as impressive in Europe for Los Che. Their campaign started way back in August, as they made light work of defeating Stabaek in the play-off round with a 7-1 aggregate win. Valencia then topped their qualifying group, going unbeaten in the process with 3 wins and 3 draws from 6, a run of games that saw star man David Villa start only once in the defining game away to Genoa in which he duly scored a last minute winner. Instead the plaudits have fallen upon rising star Juan Mata, and the rejuvenated Joaquin. The pair struck 5 goals between them on route to the knockout stage.
Qualification saw Los Che paired with Club Brugge, a tie that on paper may have seemed a lot simpler than it turned out to be. After suffering a 1-0 defeat in the first leg in Brugge, (a result that brought to an end Valencia’s spectacular 18 match unbeaten run in Europe dating back to 2005) Valencia went into the return leg at Estadio Mestalla confident of overturning the single goal deficit and Juan Mata’s 1st minute strike increased the expectancy of them booking their place in the last 16. However, for the next 89 minutes they came up against an unbeatable figure in the form of Brugge keeper Stijn Stijnen and it took a brace from Valencia’s home-grown Pablo Hernandez in extra time to ensure Valencia eventually sealed their place in the last 16.
Club Brugge keeper Stijn Stijnen finally beaten in extra time.
The extra time win for Los Che has set up one of the ties of the round against last year’s beaten finalists Werder Bremen. Bremen are the top scorers in the tournament with 21 goals so far, and Claudio Pizzaro has notched 8 of these goals making him the most dangerous striker in the tournament to date. However, in David Villa, Valencia possess one of the most feared front men in world football. The Spaniard is in fine form again this season leading the La Liga charts with 17 goals, with his overall tally already exceeding 20 for the season – something he has achieved for an incredible 9 consecutive seasons. The Euro 2008 Golden Boot winner will want to improve upon his 2 goals from the group stage, and you certainly wouldn’t back against him doing exactly that.
Star man Villa will be key to Valencia progressing further in Europe.
Valencia will feel they have a score to settle with Bremen after watching the Germans do the double over them in the group stages of the Champions League back in 04/05. Los Che have shared a lot of ups and downs since then, but they have undoubted pedigree on the big stage having made 7 major European finals in their history, going on to lift a trophy on 4 occasions.
Los Che will be hoping to get their hands on the trophy again come May.
Valencia know what it takes to win the Europa League having won the trophy back in 03/04, and it would be no surprise to see them lining up in the Hamburg Arena come the 12th May.