A very comfortable win for Valencia against an insipid AZ Alkmaar who appeared resigned to exiting the competition from the outset of the game. AZ were not helped by shambolic defending early on and a lack of creativity or guile in attack throughout.
Given the last few weeks, Unai Emery could not have written a better script himself. With the team going through a poor run of form and Emery under pressure, AZ arrived at the Mestalla and offered nothing.
Valencia went with their strongest available line up, broadly in a 4-2-3-1 formation
Barragan Rami Costa, R Alba
Topal Costa, T
Fehgouli Jonas Mathieu
AZ Alkmaar went with a 4-3-3 with ex-Villarreal frontman Jozy Altidore leading the attack. It was not a particularly happy return to Spanish soil for the striker.
Marcelis Moisander Viergever Poulsen
Maher Elm Martens
Beerens Altidore Holman
Valencia began brightly, keen to take the game to their opponents. With AZ defending a high line, Valencia were often very direct, looking for balls over the top and into the channels for the willing Soldado to run onto and turn the AZ defence.
Two goals in two minutes confirmed Valencia’s control of the game and the tie.
AZ had already shown their hand early on when defending corners. They simply piled all their players deep into their own penalty area yet lacked structure. Were they man marking? Was it zonal marking? Furthermore, with nobody left upfield, how did they expect to push out of their penalty area if the ball was cleared?
The first opportunity from a corner fell to Tino Costa. After just 5 minutes a corner was played to the edge of the box and he scooped his effort wide of the target under no pressure. No lessons were learned.
In the 14th minute, Valencia took a short corner and had a 3 vs 1 situation on the right wing. Fehgouli had time to deliver a cross into the AZ area. AZ had 9 players in their own penalty area against 4 Valencia players yet Rami still had a free header for the opening goal aided by some flapping by Esteban.
In the 16th minute the second goal arrived and broadly followed the same pattern. This time the short corner was taken and Valencia had a 3 vs 2 on the right wing. Tino Costa took possession, was not closed down and delivered a cross into the penalty area. Despite AZ having 7 players to mark the 4 players of Valencia, Soldado had a free header at the near post to flick the ball on for Rami to finish at the back post.
Still AZ had not learned their lesson and another corner in the 41st minute again saw Valencia create a 3 vs 2 on the right wing leading to a chance for Soldado which was saved before Jonas put his header just wide. A header wide from yet another cross from the right.
For a team operating in the latter stages of a European competition, the naivety displayed by AZ in the first half was bewildering. They continually repeated the same mistake.
The attack on the left side of Valencia is well known with Alba and Mathieu regularly swapping positions. However, it was on the right hand side where the impressive Fehgouli linked well with Barragan throughout the game that the third goal was created for Valencia.
Following a Valencia attack, Viergever failed to clear the ball properly and when Fehgouli threaded a pass through to Soldado, Viergever failed to spot the run allowing Soldado to square the ball for Alba.
In total, three goals came from the Valencia right and the general performance of Fehgouli, both defensively and in attack gives Valencia another dimension and removes the reliance upon the left side of the team.
One area where Valencia continue to look weak is in central midfield. Mehmet Topal is happy dropping deep, sometimes going between the centre backs whilst Tino Costa wants to push on, not surprising considering his long range shooting.
This leaves a gap which was filled by Bangea, to knit the defence and attack together. Without him Valencia have won 4 from 12 in all competitions. The general slmup had begun when he was still in the team however.
There is a lack of movement in the central midfield area with nobody coming short and recycling the ball, keeping play moving.
The best possible opponent for Valencia and Emery at the present moment in time.
They dealt easily with a lacklustre AZ team and took the opportunity to regain some much needed confidence ahead of the daunting prospect of a trip to the Bernabeu on Sunday.