The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 8 – The Toughest End to a Season

We headed into the second half of our second season with Valencia sandwiched by Spanish giants Barcelona and the increasingly untouchable Real Madrid.

January transfer business

January began with backup defender Manuel Jesús Tejada moving to Roma for £12.5 million. No major outgoings followed until our transfer window had closed when Fikayo Tomori, who’d been really poor this season, decided he was no longer happy being our third choice centre-back and requested a transfer. We did well to get £40.5 million for him at the last minute from Manchester United. For context, that more than doubled our bank balance, which has been reducing very dubiously.

In their place came a handful of youngsters. We snapped up an exciting prospect in 16-year-old Belgian midfielder Femi Okonkwo, who arrived for £2 million from Club Brugge. We also snapped up 21-year-old Argentinian striker Federico Seoane, who looks good and has bagged goals through his career thus far. However, he can’t play for us yet as we’re at the maximum of non-EU players, so we’ll loan him out for the rest of the season.

We also brought in another former Sporting player as midfielder Carlos Dias came in on loan from Man United. We got £6 million from United when he was very young and he looks to have progressed nicely, so he’ll come in to provide much-needed support in midfield.

Another future investment came with the arrival of 19-year-old right-back Davide Patti. We spent £10 million up front with another £10 million after 50 league games, but this kid looks fantastic. My scouts gave him a 91 rating, which is the highest I’ve seen from them thus far, so I think we’ve got a great deal. Plus, current right-back Victor Gomez joins Napoli at the end of his contract in the summer so I wanted to get an upgrade.

In other news, just as if Real Madrid weren’t already good enough, they went and signed Erling Haaland for £89 million. Oh joys… While Real Sociedad sold their best player Mikel Goiria to Man United for £103 million.

A sluggish start to 2027

I’d given los chicos 5 days of rest time to spend with their families over Christmas, which I thought was delightfully festive of me. But that very much showed in a very sluggish first match of 2027 at home to Mallorca. Nothing happened in the first half Son Heung-Min blasted a couple of chances wide, but we finally got the vital goal on 70 minutes through Juan Martín Sancho – who has now become a natural left winger and looks to have surpassed Naci Unuvar as first choice.

However, Unuvar then stepped off the bench to score the only goal in another 1-0 win at home to Villarreal. So now I’m truly baffled as to who to play on the left! And our less than convincing start to the year led to our first defeat of the season at Espanyol.

Jose Gaya was ruled out for a trip to Leganes, but it didn’t stop the left-back goalscoring trend. We struggled to really get going again but Marjan Stevanovic, on loan from Sporting, stepped up to steer home a lovely goal after 78 minutes. We’re now 5 points Real Madrid and Barcelona have somehow crept up to 5 points behind us.

Gaya returned to action to make his 400th league appearance for Valencia and marked it with – you guessed it – a goal from the penalty spot, which was his 10th goal of the season. A left-back scoring 10 goals before the end of January!! He scored after 6 minutes then we did very little until Son wrapped things up with 6 minutes remaining. In case you were wondering, that puts Gaya 59 matches of the all-time Valencia appearances record held by Fernando.

The next day, Real put 7 past Girona with Haaland bagging twice. Just to give you some insight into their attack… Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Kai Havertz, Rodrygo, Paul Pogba, Diogo Jota. And if any of those aren’t working out they have Jadon Sancho, Talles Magno and Arnor Sigurdsson who can’t get a game. They’ve now won 9 league games in a row without conceding and won their last 14 league matches. What a ridiculous team!

However, they went and lost that unbeaten streak with a 3-1 El Clasico defeat at Barcelona in the next match. The bad news is, we have to face them in a two-legged Copa del Rey semi-final. Uh-oh…

Spanish Cup Semi v Real

Despite the attacking threats listed below we somehow managed to stop any of them scoring in the first leg of our Copa del Rey semi-final. A fairly non-eventful game saw them only manage 10 shots but we made our 6 count, as substitute Vedran Stamenkovic came on to nab a 79th minute winner.

We then came within 2 minutes of the final as Gaya’s long-range strike had us 2-1 going into the last few minutes. But of course Real went and scored from a free-kick. I mean, who are we to even attempt to beat Real Madrid on this game? Villarreal managed to knock out Barcelona on away goals in the other semi, which makes our late loss even more galling.

Real won the final 2-1 after extra-time, making it 4 Copa del Rey titles in the last 5 years.

Inconsistency reigns

Our shaky league form continued with a 1-1 draw at Malaga, and looked to be extending as we went behind early on at home to Sevilla – who scored from their first shot, obviously. But Jovane Cabral, the world’s most inconsistent footballer, got us level just before half-time then Sancho fired a winner on 63 minutes.

But we got back on track as Mr Inconsistency decided to have a blinder and score twice in the first half at Celta. They got a goal back just after half time but Sancho and Soler sealed a big 4-1 win.

Bizarrely, later that week 15th placed Athletic Bilbao went and smashed local rivals Real Sociedad 8-0, with young striker Xabier Garmendia bagging four! And wouldn’t you know it, they were our next league opponent! We were pretty poor at Bilbao, but somehow escaped with a 0-0 draw despite only having 4 shots all match.

My 100th game as Valencia boss – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? – saw us entertain 11th placed Real Zaragoza. And the boys marked the anniversary with a dominant 2-0 win. Son got us started and Cabral doubled the lead in the second half. Unuvar got both assists, which were his first goal involvements in 9 matches since early January.

Cabral continued his hot streak by scoring his 10th of the season in a 2-0 win over Girona, which also saw Vladan Cula’s first goal for the club in his 31st appearance, then a 2-1 local derby win at Levante.

Tough season finale

Our final three away games gave us the toughest end to a season I’ve ever seen on FM. They were… wait for it… Atletico Madrid, Barcelona – who’ve won 13 of their last 14 – and Real Madrid. So getting points on the board in the 3 home games against 4th-placed Real Betis, Real Valladolid and Alaves was going to be crucial. But, not an easy season finale!

We went into the final six games sitting 2nd in the league, 4 points behind Real and 3 clear of Barca, who had a game in hand. Crucially though, we were 14 points clear of Betis and 19 ahead of Sociedad in 5th. So the Champions League was all but confirmed for next season.

Atletico away was first-up, and annoyingly Gaya was suspended. But we got a great start as midfielders Cula and Carlos Soler put us two up inside 16 minutes and we dominated for the rest of the match. However, out of absolutely nowhere, Atletico scored in the 88th and 94th minutes to steal a 2-2 draw. Madrid lost on the same day, so that point took us to within 3 of top spot.

4th-placed Betis then came to town and we secured Champions League football with a 2-1 win courtesy of Cabral and Son firing home assisted by Cabral. Barca drew at home to Bilbao, which moved us 3 points clear of them. Cabral won the April player of the month award, with 3 goals and 2 assists in 4 games and an average rating of 8.00, and I won manager of the month for the first time since August.

Next was Valladolid at home, in which Son’s 36th-minute goal was enough for a nervy 1-0 win. Barca drew 0-0 at Malaga the previous day, which moved us 5 points clear of them going into a trip to the Nou Camp.

A ridiculous game saw us have 2 goals disallowed for offside in the first half, after which they went down the other end and scored from their first highlight of the game and scored their only chance of the second half. That kept us two points clear of Barca, but given our final game was at Real we were now relying on them slipping up.

Madrid basically wrapped up the league the next day as a 94th minute winner saw them 2-1 at home to Villarreal and move 6 points clear.

We were the early game in the penultimate round of La Liga and put the pressure on with a 4-0 win at home to Alaves. Rodrigo Fernandes picked a good time to score his first goal of the season on 41 minutes and only his 2nd in 106 games for the club. Cabral and Son made it 3 goals in 4 minutes before half-time and Daniele Rugani added another early in the second half. That win saw us set a new Valencia record of 85 points.

Superbly, Barca went and drew at Sevilla the next day, which confirmed our 2nd place finish and took all the pressure of the end of season showdown at Santiago Bernabeú. Real won the league the following day with a 4-3 win at Atletico, in which they were trailing 3-2 with 4 minutes remaining but scored in the 86th and 91st minutes. Just a ridiculous team.

We lost 1-0 on the final day in a truly dire game at Real, in which Bernardo Silva curled in a free-kick. I thought that was an alright result and we got to give a few youngsters their debuts.

That meant we finished 9 points back from Real, who racked up 94 points. We only lost twice all season but clearly the 10 draws are something we need to address if we have a chance of challenging Real. That said, I’m delighted with Valencia’s progress this season.

Youth prospects shine

Away from the first team, our Under 19s squad won the UEFA Youth League led by winger Philippe Marquet who scored 8 goals in 7 games and exciting midfielder Jorge Marin, who came through last season’s youth intake. They also won the Under 19s Division 1 title with Marquet scoring 23 in 20 and Marin got 18 assists in 27 games.

We’d also been promised a really poor youth intake, but it actually wasn’t that bad as we landed two players with four-star potential. Striker José Maria Millet is apparently the pick of the two but left-back Juan Carlos’ potential suddenly jumped when I offered him a full-time contract, so we’ll keep an eye out for them in the next few years. Both made their debuts on the final day at Real, with Juan Carlos becoming the youngest player in Valencia history aged 16 years and 209 days.

Join us next time as we look back on Season 2 and the key performers and interesting stats of our second campaign in Valencia.


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