The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 16 – Tense Title Battle

With 12 games remaining of Valencia CF’s title defence, a tense title battle looked to be in store. Despite still being unbeaten we were just one point ahead of Barcelona, who just so happen to be our first opponents in this post.

Ahead of that game, I’m cognisant that I’ve not shared our tactics in a while, and things have changed a little with our most recent signings. Spanish midfielder Sergio Carrillo arrived in the summer and is natural as a ball winning midfielder. As a result of that, we’ve shifted both wingers onto attacking roles. But other than that, things haven’t changed much since we first came into the club.

A home game against Barcelona also happened to be my 200th match in charge of Valencia. We started the game well as Carrillo headed home from a Juan Martín Sancho corner on 26 minutes. Barca’s star striker Abdulgani Zor equalised just before half-time.

A very tense second half followed, which wasn’t helped by Sancho getting injured and not having a replacement on the bench. So we moved José Gaya to left midfield and brought academy product Juan Carlos on at left-back. It remained 1-1 until I asked the boys for creativity with 7 minutes remaining and it worked beautifully as substitute Philippe Marquet latching onto Gaya’s pass to drill home into the far corner.

This huge win moved us 4 points clear of Barca with 11 games remaining. I also picked up a 5th manager of the month award of the 7 remaining.

A win at home to Real Valladolid was followed by a draw at Leganes then a 3-1 win at Real Sporting and a narrow 2-1 win over Celta, with Philip Cohen scoring in three out of four games. This saw Valencia set a new La Liga record of 43 games unbeaten and, just to make things better, Barca drew with Real Madrid to send us 4 points clear.

We extended that run by another match as Cohen bagged a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Espanyol. And the first was a brilliant goal that summarises the striker’s dominance.

Spanish Cup Final

For the second season in a row we also made it to the Spanish Cup Final. Having defeated Gimnastic de Tarragona, Almeria and Espanyol then Atletico Madrid in the semi-final, we unsurprisingly faced Barcelona in the final.

It was an absolutely terrible game in which we scored from a Vedran Stamenkovic cross that hit Barca defender Jean-Clair Todibo on the backside and bounced into his own net after 8 minutes. Zor had a goal disallowed just before half-time then nothing happened in the second half and we snuck a 1-0 win. So we somehow defended our Copa del Rey title!

Europe League embarrassment

Things didn’t go quite so well in Europe as we went up against Real Sociedad in the Europa League quarter-finals having dismissed Borussia Monchengladbach in the second knockout round.

We won the home leg 4-1, so I rotated a little for the second leg and we somehow succombed to lose 5-1 after extra-time. Woops!

Six games from the title

With six games to go we were four points clear at the top of La Liga, and kept our great run going with a solid 2-0 win at Girona thanks to goals from Cohen and Sancho.

We then faced a huge game at Santiago Bernabeu, which began a tricky run of games to finish the season. It was a dire game against Madrid in which neither side created anything until Edson Alvarez popped up to give them a lead from the corner on 82 minutes. It looked like our unbeaten record was gone but academy product left-back Juan Carlos picked the perfect time to score his first goal for the club by smashing home an injury-time equaliser. However, Barca won at 10-man Girona on the same day to close the gap to just 2 points.

The easiest game on paper in our run-up was at home to relegation battlers Rayo Vallecano. We totally dominated them but struggled to break them down. I pushed up the attacking mentality, threw Stemankovic up front alongside Cohen and demanded more several times. And it eventually paid off after 84 minutes as a Cohen shot was parried into the path of Carrillo to turn home from close range. And we edged a nervy 1-0 win.

Our final three games were away to Sevilla and Atletico then at home to Athleic Bilbao, which was far from easy. Barca, on the other hand, had Real Sporting and Getafe away then Sevilla at home, which was very easy. So, despite still being unbeaten and 2 points clear, this was going to be a big ask.

Barca played before us and beat next-to-bottom Sporting 4-0 away, which relegated the strugglers. My 500th game as a manager took us to Sevilla and Stamenkovic got us started with a brilliant finish in the 17th minute. They won a penalty on 38 minutes but Antonio de Lima, officially the best goalkeeper in the world, stood tall to save Breel Embolo’s effort.

Next was a trip to Atletico and my pre-match meeting worked a treat. Soler won us a penalty on 36 minutes that Gaya stepped up to coolly smash home. Stamenkovic then went down the right and crossed for opposite winger Sancho to head home at the far post two minutes after half-time, then things got silly as Cohen smashed home from a corner on 53 minutes.

That win moved us 5 points clear with Barcelona still having two games remaining. And that meant we only needed 1 more point to defend our title, based on our head-to-head record.

However, none of that mattered as Barca handed it to us on a plate for the second season in a row by drawing 1-1 at Getafe.

Valencia had defended their La Liga title!!

The boys celebrated the title by thumping Bilbao 3-0 with goals from Cohen, Stamenkovic and a Gaya penalty. And that took us past 100 points and ensured we finished La Liga unbeaten!! We finished on 91 points and only conceded 15 goals all season, finished 4 points clear of Barca and an impressive 22 ahead of Real Madrid.

Join us next time as we look back on our first unbeaten season in this save and a second successive La Liga title for Valencia.

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