One of my first blogs when I started this site was a review of my Valencia side on Football Manager 2018. Now, I’m heading back to Valencia for the 19 version.
Valencia has always been a team that I’ve been intrigued by, ever since the days when they were winning La Liga and reaching the Champions League final back in 2000 and 2001. The likes of Vicente, Miguel Angel Angulo, Pablo Aimar, Gaizka Mendieta, Ruben Baraja and David Villa were players I loved watching. And I’ve done a stadium tour of La Mestalla, which is a simply stunning stadium.
But times haven’t been quite so exciting for Valencia fans of late. Gary Neville happened. They flirted with relegation a little. But they’ve bounced back to qualify for the Champions League for the last couple of seasons. So there’s clearly potential there, and I think they should have a decent youth system – which is what I’m really interested in with a save.
Proof of that youth is the presence of 21-year-olds Carlos Soler, Goncalo Guedes and Mouctar Diakhaby, 20-year-old Toni Lato and 17-year-old Lee Kangin upon taking over the side. Then there’s 22-year-old Santi Mina and 23-year-old Jose Gaya. So the youthful core of the team is very much there to build around for the future.
Adding to that, I promoted 18-year-old centre-back Hugo Guillamon up to the first team from Valencia B, and signed 19-year-old centre midfielder Exequiel Palacios for £3 million from River Plate.
We also brought in 21-year-old midfielder Carles Alena on loan from Barcelona, as well as Divock Origi on loan from Liverpool to provide some attacking support. In total, 12 of our 23 man first-team squad are 23-years-old or younger.
Looking at the Valencia side their defence looks a bit stronger than I expected, right-back is a little lacking in talent and depth, but there’s plenty of both at left-back in Gaya, Lato and Alex Centelles.
One of my personal favourite players Dani Parejo is a strong midfield option alongside Geoffrey Kondogbia, with support from Soler and Palacios. But, Soler can play on the right wing, which has informed my thinking for an unusual tactic.
That involves Guedes playing up as an attacking left-winger, in support of Mina and Rodrigo strikeforce. Something like this:
I’ve not used this before, but I do love to be able to play two strikers and this just may allow that extravagance without leaving the defence horribly exposed.
A strong start
Pre-season went well, and ended with a 9-1 thrashing of Dunkerque, so the players came into the season with a bit of confidence. I’d promised my board that we’d try and qualify for the Euro Cup, which wasn’t bad considering we’d be competing in the Champions League.
La Liga began with a trip to Barcelona, to face Espanyol thankfully. A dull first half was instantly forgettable, but Parejo changed all that with a 30-yard free-kick swung into the top corner four minutes after half-time. Borja Iglesias equalised just after the hour mark but the game swung on Chema getting a straight red card after 70 minutes.
We instantly went on the attack and it paid off as Mina put us back in front three minutes later. And we added two more goals late on as Alena came on to score on his debut on 86 minutes, then Mina doubled his tally in the last minute.
Two home games were up next. First up, Parejo struck again – this time for a penalty – to put us a goal ahead against Alaves. And we held that lead all the way until the last minute, when Mina added a second to finish the game off. Then Villarreal came to town for a big derby clash, and we kept the 100% start going with a third goal in three games for Parejo.
We do love a 1-0
That 1-0 win was backed up with another as we went to Moscow to face Lokomotiv in our first Champions League group stage game. Mina kept up his good start to the season with the deciding goal after 10 minutes and we held on for an important opening win.
But the winning start came to an end as we travelled back to Barcelona, and this time it was a trip to Nou Camp. I was fearing a thumping, especially when Ousmane Dembele gave them the lead after 19 minutes and they began raining in shots at our goal. But we managed to hold them off and grabbed a completely undeserved equaliser through substitute Kevin Gameiro – assisted by another sub Guedes – in the 91st minute. But, in true FM fashion, Barca went down the other end, won a penalty and scored it through Arturo Vidal on the rebound.
Things didn’t get much easier as Real Madrid was next up, at home this time. It was a pretty equal match with both sides having 12 shots on target although we dominated the possession with 65% of the ball. And possession counted as Gaya cut in from the left and steered the ball into the far corner with his right foot to decide it. Another 1-0 to Valencia.
We ended September with a tricky trip to the tiny ground of Eibar. It was less of a tight affair, as we dominated them with 16 shots to their 5, but we struggled to put our chances away. We did, however, just about come on top as Rodrigo scored his first goal of the season to hand us – yep, you guessed it – a 1-0 win.
A fourth 1-0 win, and a fifth clean sheet of the season, saw us sitting top of La Liga after six matches. Amazingly, Wissam Ben Yedder already has 8 goals in just 5 games for Sevilla, one of which he came on as a substitute.
Join us next time as we progress through the season with Valencia in the Champions League and with Barca and Madrid out of the way early on in the league.