The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 4 – Unexpected Success

Valencia went into the final ten games of La Liga in 2025/26 locked in a four-way battle for the final two Champions League places with Espanyol, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid.

The run-in began began with a 1-1 draw at Malaga then a tough game at close challengers Atletico. And just to help matters all three of our left-backs were unavailable, so we got ripped apart 3-0, which suddenly put them just three points behind us.

We got back to winning ways with a narrow 1-0 success over Athletic Bilbao, in which Jovane Cabral scored a great solo goal after 2 minutes then we did nothing. And the goals flowed again as Getafe came to town and our two ageing attackers continued their fine form. Neymar teed up Son Heung-Min’s 20th league goal of the campaign and smashed home the third, sandwiching another goal from Cabral.

Disaster struck in Europe (see below) as Rodrigo Fernandes was ruled out for the season with an injury that basically left us without a decent midfielder. We then had another big game at Villarreal, who beat us 1-0 with a goal from… surprise, surprise… our former striker at Sporting, Facundo Soto. We were really poor, but Cabral somehow missed an open goal in the last minute.

Next was a trip to bottom of the league Osasuna and we snuck a 1-0 win through a Cabral header from a Neymar corner. It was a weird game where we scored after 21 minutes then absolutely nothing happened. But a win’s a win. Before our game, Real won El Clasico 3-0 at home to Barca, which moved them 12 points clear with 4 games remaining. And at the same time as our game, Atletico lost so we moved 5 points clear of them.

Barca then went and lost again – just their third defeat of the season – 4-3 at 12th-placed Athletic Bilbao, which handed La Liga to Real. However, Real then went and lost their first game of the season at Atletico, which was very annoying.

That put the pressure on us at 14th-placed Osasuna and we really struggled, despite Cabral giving us the lead on the hour mark. But somehow Osasuna got level out of nowhere 10 minutes later – through one of our former Sporting players, because of course it was, Karamoko Dembele. I went attacking and threw on Victor Osimhen for Son, who’d had a nightmare, and the striker delivered his first goal for the club to seal a massive win in the 91st minute. That goal broke his 14-game goalless streak. Not ideal…

Barca seem to have imploded and gone from not losing all season to losing four of their last five, including losing to our closest competitors Espanyol.

Another run of away games ended with a trip to Celta Vigo in which they of course scored with their first shot in the first minute. We pushed but struggled to do anything until Cabral dragged us level – eventually, with what his sixth shot of the match.

Champions League showdown

That teed up a huge penultimate match of the season against Espanyol. We were 3rd on 72 points and they were 1 point back in 4th, while Atletico were a further 5 back. Therefore, a win would secure Champions League football.

It wasn’t the best of matches but just after the half hour mark Cabral broke down the right and won a penalty. Neymar stepped up coolly to put us ahead. And from there, we stand fairly firm to prevent anything Espanyol threw at us – although our former play Lee Kang-in did force a good save out of David Soria.

A 1-0 success ensured that Valencia qualified for the Champions League and confirmed a third-place finish – Valencia’s highest yet in this save.

The season concluded at home to Real Betis, in which Neymar scored a screamer to earn a 1-1 draw then got injured. But that was the crowning glory on a superb season for the now 34-year-old Brazilian, whose contract is up at PSG this summer but he wants £500k-a-week!

You’ll notice in the final table below that Real have had a ridiculous season, which I’ll talk about more in the next post… and by the way, Barcelona lost 4 consecutive league games at the end of the season, which must be some kind of record for them.

Europa League run

The knockout stages of the Europa League saw us take on Zenit St Petersburg and we didn’t start well with a 1-0 away loss. Cabral put us ahead after 7 minutes in the second leg, only for us to do our usual trick of not doing anything. However, Zenit had two players sent off late on and we nicked it in extra-time through loanee Tommy Doyle.

Familiar foes followed as we took on Sevilla, with the away leg up first again and we drew 2-2. And we eased through to the semi-finals with a Son double sealing a 3-1 win.

That teed up a tough semi against Lyon, who’d won Ligue 1 in recent years but were now miles off the pace. The big issue was that our threadbare squad was exhausted, which saw a couple of random players make very rare starts. Nicolas Pepe put them ahead, then Benjamin Mendy doubled the lead, only for the left-back to then score an own-goal to give us hope for the second leg. And that proved to be crucial. Daniele Rugani scored only his second goal of the season to put us ahead on away goals and Victor Osimhen scored a screamer to seal it.

Valencia were heading to the Europa League final! And, you may remember me saying last time that I didn’t care about the competition… but strangely, now I’m a bit more interested…

European Final

Our opponents in the Final were Manchester United, who were seeking their third Europa League success in five years. The injury to Neymar at the end of the league campaign forced us to move Son to the left wing with Osimhen to come in up top. And I risked Fernandes, who was just about fit enough to play.

And the forced decision proved an absolute masterstroke as Son cut inside from the left, played a nice ball into the box for Osimhen to fire past David De Gea. United heavily outplayed us with 55% possession and 17 shots to our 8 – of which Brandon Williams had the most shots with 4. However, they couldn’t find a way past David Soria in goal – who actually earned himself the player of the match award!

Valencia were Europa League champions! And… I think this is the first European trophy I’ve won on FM20.

I think the decision to leave Sporting in the summer has been justified by our Europa League success. We also performed very well in the league to finish third with a pretty small squad that’s relatively limited on quality. But the European success would not have happened with Sporting, so I’m delighted with my decision to move on.

Join us next time for a reflection on our first season in Spain, a look at our key performers, and we’ll see what’s happened elsewhere in Europa in 2025/26. And… there’s the World Cup to have a look at.


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