The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 3 – Neymar Is On Fire

Last time out, we’d made a superb start to life in Valencia by winning eight of our first ten matches and only trailed a goal-crazy Real Madrid and Barcelona. And our form was near enough totally reliant on a free-scoring 33-year-old Son Heung-Min playing as a makeshift striker.

The good start continued as we went to Getafe and that man Son was at it again. He opened the scoring in the 34th minute from a Neymar corner from the right that went all the way through to the back post and he smashed home on the half volley. Then just before the hour mark, Fikayo Tomori launched a ball down the middle, Son raced through to the byline, cut inside and punted a toe poke past the goalkeeper. They got a goal back out of nothing late on but we held on for a 2-1 win.

Another away game marked my 300th match as a football manager, this time visiting Athletic Bilbao, who could go 4th with a win. But we were excellent again as Carlos Soler smashed us ahead inside 2 minutes. The midfielder then turned creator as he teed up right winger Jovane Cabral for a brace before half-time. And we eased to an impressive 3-0 win.

A strange 1-0 loss at home to Villarreal followed, but we bounced back to thump Osasuna 4-0 with all four goals scored in the second half. Son scored twice in 4 minutes at the start of the half and laid on a late goal for Neymar, who also grabbed two assists.

Another clean sheet followed as we drew 0-0 at home to Atletico Madrid, who’d finished second in La Liga last season. Then Neymar was at it again, scoring and creating Jose Gaya’s first goal of the campaign and Son’s 12th in a 3-0 win at Leganes. And he scored twice in another 3-0 win at home to Malaga, in which Son also scored again.

Winter break ends… hello Barca and Real

A nice relaxing break for Christmas turkey, mulled wine and presents came to an abrupt end as we faced up to the task of facing Barcelona and Real Madrid in our first two matches of 2026.

But before that, we signed a new striker in 27-year-old Victor Osimhen for £10 million from Marseille and sold two, with Mariano and Jordi Escobar leaving for a combined £7 million. We also flogged Mohamed Ihattaren, who I just don’t rate, to Spurs for £20 million. I think with a bit of work Osimhen could be a decent signing and I know from experience with Lille that he can score goals.

First up in 2026 was a not very fun trip to the Nou Camp, for which we went mega-defensive and only lost 1-0 to a late Antoine Griezmann goal, although they totally dominated us.

Worryingly, Real scored 9 against Getafe the same day we played Barca. An in the 18 games between the two clubs through this save, Valencia have only won 2 and drawn 3. However, we came out and played really well in the first half, with David Soria making a few decent saves and Son forcing a couple of saves out of Thibaut Courtois. But we went into half-time at 0-0 and it stayed that way until deep into the second half.

I thought Fernandes had stabbed us in front from an indirect free-kick after 83 minutes, only for it to be ruled out by VAR. Real immediately went down the other end and, obviously, got given a penalty by VAR. Kylian Mbappe stepped up to put them ahead and I was furious so I went very attacking. And, surprisingly, it worked, as Neymar played the ball into the box and Soler latched onto it to poke home from 18 yards. A solid 1-1 draw with Real Madrid, which was only the third time they’d dropped points all season.

Another home game followed, this time against Girona, and we were dreadful in a dire first half. But that all changed with a wondergoal from Neymar, as he collected the ball from their throw-in then raced to the other end of the pitch and smashed it home from 25 yards. That gave us confidence and a Son brace and loanee Marco Kana’s first for the club saw us to a 4-0 win. Here’s that Neymar goal:

Even more top of the table battles

We somehow managed to throw away a two-goal lead at Real Sporting but no such repeat as we defeated then 5th-placed Sevilla 2-0 away, despite them having 24 shots to our 7.

And then we played Barca again, this time at home. And this time we played really well, only for Pedri to score with their only shot of the first half after a lax piece of play by Jesus Vazquez. But we continued to play well after the break and Soler scored a trademark powerful strike late on to earn us a point.

Another big game followed as we welcomed 5th-placed Real Sociedad. Neymar put us ahead with a penalty but the real heroes were our defence and, more specifically, a player that I’ve routinely ridiculed throughout this season. As Soria saved a Moussa Dembele and pulled off a string saves as Sociedad battered us. But we held firm and Son finished them off late on for a vital 2-0 win.

Another home win saw us sweep Leganes aside 3-0, with Son scoring his 20th of the season and the on-fire Neymar getting 2 assists to set a new Valencia record with 14 assists for the campaign.

That win left us in 3rd place in La Liga, well behind Real and Barca but 5 points clear of 4th and 6 points clear of of Espanyol and Atletico in 5th and 6th with 10 games remaining. And just look at Real’s record of scoring 103 goals and only conceding 10 – 20% of which are against us – in 28 matches. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a crazy goalscoring record on FM.

Europa League progression

The second half of our Europa League group began with a 1-1 draw at Slavia Prague, in which Sergio Aguero became the club’s oldest ever goalscorer at 37 years 157 days of age. We then snuck a 1-0 win at Schalke thanks to 92nd minute Mariano goal and nicked another 1-0 at home to Vitoria de Setúbal to win the group. It was a very dull group that we very lucky to win!

Join us next time as we complete the final 10 games of our first season in charge of Valencia and move into the knockout stages of the Europa League with Zenit in the second knockout round.

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