Heading into the first international break of our second season with Valencia, we were sitting pretty at the top of the league with the evergreen Son Heung-Min in top form.
And the South Korean continued his fine start to the season with a brace in a 3-1 win at Real Valladolid. That was followed by a trip to Alaves, in which we dominated but couldn’t find a way through until young winger Juan Martín Sancho scored his first goal for the club with an 86th minute winner.
We then welcomed Real Madrid to town and both in-form sides traded shots before Atletico loanee Naci Unuvar fired us ahead on 34 minutes. And six minutes later Cabral won a penalty that Jose Gaya, in very strange fashion, doubled our lead. See the video below!
Things were looking good but Kylian Mbappé got a goal back 3 minutes before half-time – because that’s what happens on FM – then scored an equaliser with 12 minutes remaining. But we held on for a respectable 2-2 draw.
We then went away to Villarreal and fell behind just before half-time to a goal from regen Greek striker Carl Berglund on 41 minutes. But Son got us level 4 minutes later then Unuvar curled in a lovely effort to hand us the lead on 64 minutes. But Berglund struck again to seal a 2-2 draw.
Madrid and Barca both drew matches the following day, which kept us top of the league. And, on the back of our fine start to the season, the Valencia board offered me a new contract that doubled my wages to £100,000-per-week until 2030.
I celebrated that win with a 3-1 win at home to Espanyol. Itamar Junges gave us the lead with an excellent volley then both teams had goals disallowed in the last few minutes of the first half. A quiet second half came to a wild ending as youngster Juan Martín Sancho came off the bench to put us two up on 85 minutes then Junges turned home a Jovane Cabral corner in the first minute of injury time. And there was even time for Espanyol to get a consolation in the 95th minute.
We followed that up with our biggest win as Valencia boss thanks to a 5-0 thrashing of Leganes. Captain Carlos Soler got things started with a delicious curled effort, Gaya won and scored a penalty, then Leganes had a man sent off and Junges curled home the following free-kick. Sancho, starting in place of the injured Unuvar, continued his growth with two goals in the second half.
Another convincing win followed that as another Gaya brace, taking him to 6 goals this season, led us to a 3-0 win at Granada, before a solid 1-1 draw at Real Betis.
But we lay down a marker with another 3-0 win, this time at home to Atletico Madrid. Soler got us underway with a 9th minute screamer, Cabral turned home from a free-kick just after half an hour, then Gaya scored again with a late penalty.
Gaya’s impressive form saw him win the October player of the month, with 4 goals in 5 matches and an average rating of 7.84. Not bad for a left-back. And he celebrated that with another goal from the penalty spot in a 3-0 win at home to local rivals Levante. But the match will only be remembered for this simply ridiculous goal by Cabral, which opened the scoring after 4 minutes.
Cabral was at it again next time out at home to Athletic Bilbao, collecting the ball inside his own half and running through the middle of the pitch to score. Superb! From there, nothing happened and we won 1-0 in a really dull game, in which we had 6 shots and they had 1. And, Soler got himself sent off after 78 minutes.
I was beginning to get concerned that Son’s legs had gone after scoring just once in ten games. However, that streak came to a dramatic end as he bagged a hat-trick, of which his third was a wonderful team goal involving midfield duo Vladan Cula and Rodrigo Fernandes, and Gaya bagged another penalty in a 4-1 win at Real Zaragoza. Despite his drought, Son still has 11 goals in 16 league games.
We drew 0-0 with Celta, then Son was back on it as he scored both goals in a 2-0 win at Sevilla, who are way down in 12th in La Liga. And that took us to the end of 2026 unbeaten after 18 matches but still sitting 2nd in the league, only 2 points behind Real Madrid. Real are also unbeaten and are just ridiculous, scoring more than 3 goals per match!
In other news, Son is the third top scorer in the league on 13 goals and left-back Gaya is the joint 7th top scorer with 7 goals. Gaya’s great form led to him being named in the FIFA Team of the Year, which was dominated by 7 Real Madrid players. While Son won his 6th Asian Footballer of the Year in the last 8 years and Player of the Month for December with 5 goals in 3 matches.
Champions League gets up and running
We were handed a relatively decent draw alongside Chelsea, Club Brugge and Krasnodar. And we got the perfect start with a 5-1 thumping of Club Brugge, in which Gaya and Unuvar both scored twice and young striker Vedran Stamenkovic scored his first goal for the club late on.
But our second match saw Chelsea come to town with our former old boys Daniel Braganca and Eduardo Quaresma – who I still can’t believe Sporting sold as soon as I left – as well as Erling Haaland. Fikayo Tomori was facing his former team and got sent off, then Haaland unsurprisingly scored the only goal.
But we made steps towards qualification with a dominant 2-0 win over Krasnodar. Cabral scored twice including a goal of the season contender that saw him run from the half-way line, beat several defenders and score – which was his first goal of the season after 12 appearances.
A load of players were exhausted by our fifth game, at home to Club Brugge, so I rested loads of them. And we laboured to a 0-0 draw that secured qualification. Then we threw away the final game at Chelsea with a load of youngsters making their debuts and we lost 5-0. Oops. We were then drawn against Arsenal in the first knockout round.
Join us next time to see if we can extend our unbeaten run into 2027 and how close we can push Real Madrid to the Spanish title.