The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 12 – Underdogs Title Battle

Heading into the final two months of the 2027/28 campaign, Valencia CF were tantalisingly close to their first La Liga title since 2004. But Real Betis were hot on our tails, just 2 points behind in the league and our opponents in the upcoming cup final.

The quest for the title began beautifully with a 5-0 home thumping of Mallorca. Striker Philip Cohen put us ahead after 5 minutes and we were two up inside 8 minutes through Argentinian left winger Juan Martín Sancho.

We added two more through the break, through Brazilian centre-back Itamar Junges and another Englishman in right winger Raldane Barber, who then added a fifth late on. Betis snuck 1-0 win at Getafe later that day.

The following weekend, Betis won again to pile the pressure on us at 5th-placed Real Sociedad. But that man Cohen scored even earlier this time, racing from the halfway line and smashing home in the third minute. We held on all the way to injury time, when Sancho won a penalty that I told Cohen to take and he duly banged home for his 29th goal of the season. A solid 2-0 away win secured Champions League qualification, but our sights were aimed much higher.

We also had our youth intake come through, which looks average. The best prospect is Romanian midfielder Andrei Neacsu.

Spanish Cup Final!

Our opponents in the Copa del Rey Final were fellow surprise packages Real Betis, who were even smashing it in the Champions League.

The final turned out to be a very dull affair and absolutely nothing happened in the first half – not even one single highlight. I gave them a passionate team talk, asked them to get creative and it eventually worked. Barber poked a lovely pass around the corner for Cohen to race onto and divert the ball into the far corner for his 30th goal of the season.

The game raced to an end with no further highlights and a 1-0 win secured our first piece of silverware in Spain!

Another battle with Betis

Hopefully that cup success would spur the boys on and, ideally, kill Betis’ momentum a little – given they were unbeaten in the league since December and had won their last 9.

Cohen picked up a knock in the final and we were impotent without him in a dire 0-0 at Real Valladolid. Luckily, Betis also drew 0-0 away to remain 2 points back but Barcelona won 3-0, which saw them creep back into the title race just 5 points behind us.

And that was followed by another top of the table clash as Betis came to town. Both Junges and holding midfielder Marco Kana were ruled out with suspension but the good news was that Cohen was back fit.

Considering they’d gone nearly 5 months without a league defeat, the Valencia boys stepped up big time with a huge performance. Cohen got things going with a typically composed finish after rounding the keeper, then Sancho curled into two direct free-kicks to seal a 3-0 win. And, you can watch the goals for yourself below!

That huge win put us 5 points of clear of both Betis and Barca with 4 more matches remaining. However, a spanner in the works could be that our final game of the season, for the second season in a row, is against Real Madrid, but this time at home.

We then went away to Malaga, who’d been tough opponents in the Spanish Cup semi-final, and proved to be that yet again. Their keeper pulled off a double save from Cohen and Barber then denied Cohen at point-blank range at the end of the first half and I thought we were going to be frustrated. But we went attacking after the break and it paid off as Sancho went on a great run down the left and pulled it back for Carlos Dias to calmly slot into the far corner. The game again raced to an end and a nervy 1-0 success.

Betis seemed to be slipping just when it mattered as they drew 1-1 at home to Girona – following a 4-0 humbling by Man United in the Champions League semis – while Barcelona also 1-0. In other news, Cohen won the April player of the month award after 4 goals in 4 games at an average rating of 7.85.

Another away day followed as we headed to Osasuna. Centre-back Tim-Sebastian Seegert – who shirt number purists will hate because he’s wearing 11 – picked a great time to nod home his first Valencia goal on 22 minutes. Then that man Cohen stepped up to make sure of the result in the second half.

That result ended Betis’ title hopes and ensured Barca had to win to keep their hopes alive. And they did, 4-0 at Leganes. Betis also won, through a Neal Maupay goal which tells you a lot about their team, to stay ahead of Real.

Two home games to win La Liga!

With two home games remaining, we now only needed one point to lift the La Liga title – we were 5 points clear of Barca and had beaten them twice.

Meanwhile, in the build-up to the next game at home to Espanyol, my predecessor Neil Lennon – now managing the mighty Tenerife – decided this was a great time to chirp up with some needless abuse. Jog on Neil.

However, Barcelona played the day before us in El Clasico at home to Real Madrid. The two great rivals played out a dull game in which Madrid only mustered one shot on target and held Barca to a 0-0 draw that meant they handed the La Liga title to Valencia!

Valencia were Champions of Spain for the first time in 24 years!!

And, I was particularly delighted to see a personal hero Pablo Aimar, now managing Argentina Under 21s, chime in with a personal message of support.

Cohen scored to earn a 1-1 draw with Espanyol then we finished the season at home to Real Madrid on my 44th birthday (14 May). I’m suddenly very old in FM world.

We rounded the season off with a magnificent performance. We thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 with Cohen grabbing his 34th goal of the campaign, José Gaya scoring a penalty then a superb solo goal by substitute Philippe Marquet. Now that’s how you end a season! Barca played Betis on the same day and won 3-0 to secure second place.

That ensured we finished on 92 points – which is a new club record – and won the league by 5 points from Barca. We eventually finished 11 points clear of Betis and 12 ahead of Madrid.

What a season! A first league title in Spain and a Copa del Rey to boot to claim the Spanish double with Valencia. And it’s safe to say that a lot of credit for the title has to go to main goalscorer Philip Cohen.

Join us next time as we get deeper into that in a review of our third season with Valencia.

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