The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 18 – A Shocking Start to La Liga

On the back of a second successive league and cup double, Valencia CF’s efforts to rebuild were somewhat hampered by a lack of finances. That meant putting our trust in youth while the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid went on mad spending sprees. Things were about to get a bit tricky…

A very quiet summer

The summer began with being offered an interview for the vacant Manchester City job. I wasn’t overly interested – as it doesn’t meet my criteria for new clubs – and they offered it to Luis Enrique.

But back at Valencia, we had a pretty quiet summer with only one player leaving the club for a fee and only two arriving for a fee. One that did arrive was exciting 19-year-old striker Facundo Pelosi, who my coaches rate as the best prospect at the club and cost just £2.6 million from River Plate. And we started to plan for José Gaya’s reign at left-back coming to an end with the £7 million signing of French 16-year-old Claude Jolly from Troyes.

We did well not to lose any of our key players with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City sniffing around Sergio Carrillo and Barcelona rumoured to be willing to pay Juan Martín Sancho’s minimum fee of £150 million, but not even offering half of that.

Elsewhere, Barcelona signed Martin Odegaard, which is a bit weird, and Portuguese forward Luis Vaz, who I’d been after since he was at Vitoria de Setubal, for £97 million. They also snapped up my former Sporting boy Daniel Braganca from Chelsea for £48.5 million. Those came after selling exciting right winger Kenzo Wouters to Bayern for £142 million. Real Madrid signed a couple of wonderkids, including Chelsea’s Belgian star Nathen Callens for £114 million and Chilean midfielder Pablo Aghbaria from Bayern for £107 million.

In total, Real have spent £271 million and Barca have spent £243 million this summer, compared to our £10 million. We just don’t have the cash to compete with only £128 million in our balance, so we could be in trouble here this season…

International call!

While checking on potential job availabilities, I noticed that an interesting international opportunity was open with the United States of America. I’ve never managed a non-European country before, so thought ‘why not?’. I applied and they immediately came calling. So we’re now juggling Valencia with the USA.

However, to prevent these blogs getting really long and confusing I’m starting a new Soccerball blog series in which to handle the international matches.

A shocking start to La Liga

We opened up our La Liga defence with a home game against free-spending Real Madrid, which wasn’t exactly the easy opener we were hoping for. Real have a youth academy striker called Kevin, who has the media description ‘Playmaker Forward’ which I’ve never seen before, who is so good that they’re now playing Erling Haaland on the left wing.

They were very strong on the opening day, scored a great goal first-half through new right winger Frank Hirschberger, who cost £93 million from Dortmund, and held us at arm’s length for a 1-0 win. A pretty tepid start from our point of view and we’ve already lost more games this season than we lost all of last season! But I think Real will walk the title this year.

We then went away to Alaves and put in another poor performance. Philip Cohen’s 50th league goal for the club put us ahead on 50 minutes, they equalised 2 minutes later, and nothing else happened in the match so we drew 1-1. And another draw followed in a 2-2 at Celta, in which there were 3 goals in the last 10 minutes.

An international break saw Cohen get injured so Diego Gutiérrez made his first league start at home to Leganés. We got our first win of the campaign albeit in very unconvincing fashion by edging past them 1-0 with a 68th minute goal by Vedran Stamenkovic.

One thing to note is the woeful early form of Sancho, who’s struggling after having his head turned by Man City’s derisory bid. He’s averaging 6.46 after 5 games and in the wake of him moaning about me rejecting City’s ridiculous bid the whole of the squad – at least 12 of them – have turned on him! So that’s one to watch…

A big win in Europe (see below) then inspired the lads into a bit of form as we thumped Mallorca 5-0 with five different scorers. Philippe Marquet got us going then teed up goals for Gutiérrez and Carrillo, before Seegert and a Vladan Cula penalty rounded off the rout.

But two tough away games at Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad sent us into an almighty slump. We were awful in the first and lost 1-0 but created absolutely nothing. Then we took the lead at Sociedad but ended up losing 3-1 from three set-pieces.

Something has gone horribly wrong with this team, and we’re in real trouble. It’s the end of September and our title chances are gone as we languish in 13th on 8 points from 7 games – already 10 points behind Barca having played 2 games more.

But it got even worse as we threw away leads to draw with Lionel Messi’s Malaga then lose at home to Getafe. And we are now in genuine trouble, languishing down in 17th in La Liga and my job is now Insecure – which is ridiculous after two consecutive titles! I’ve tried changing tactics, mixing up the way we play but it’s just not working and I have a big task on my hands to rescue this season.

Things didn’t get much easier with three consecutive away games at Betis, Espanyol and Valladolid. It didn’t start well as we got dominated by Betis, created absolutely nothing and lost 2-0. I don’t understand what has happened to this team and nothing I do is working, and I think we’re getting sacked…

We had another game of creating absolutely nothing at Espanyol, until the last minute when Stamenkovic somehow missed a sitter at the back post. But at least we got a point this time. Then we had 18 shots but somehow created zilch at Valladolid and drew 0-0. Since beating Mallorca 5-0, we’ve now not won in six games. What is going on?!

We then went into what the media had dubbed “El Sackico” against 12th-placed Sevilla, hugely in need of three points. And we finally brought the shocking run to an end, but only through a second-half penalty. Rodolfo Ravera made a great run down the left and was brought down in the box, and Cohen did his bit to keep me in a job by slamming the ball home to end his 10-hour goal drought and secure a 1-0 win.

An international break followed and the win before it clearly did us the world of good as we strolled to a 3-0 win. Cohen scored twice inside six minutes then missed a penalty 5 minutes later and Tim-Sebastian Seegert added a late third.

We were then utterly dismal at Villarreal, conceding in the first 5 minutes of both halves and creating not a lot. That was until the last three minutes when a finally rejuvenated Sancho created a consolation for Seegert then nicked in to smash home an equaliser in injury-time. And that secured a vital 2-2 draw.

However, we then went away to Barcelona, who’ve won 13 out of 14 games and for which we were a huge 7/1 to get a result for very good reason. They dominated us by 23 shots to 2 and we were lucky to only lose 1-0 from an indirect free-kick in the first half, which Braganca created.

We bounced back with a 1-0 win of our own at home to Osasuna despite having 30 shots, with Sancho scoring the only goal with one of his 9 shots and Cohen and Gutiérrez both missing with 7 shots. The win saw us climb into the top half and only 2 points off 7th place, but another poor effort in front of goal.

Ridiculously, the board now had us rated at an E, despite taking them from obscurity and 24 years without a title to two successive La Liga wins, two Spanish Cups and a Europa League win. To be this at risk due to a blip after such huge success seems a bit ridiculous.

But we finally bounced back to something like I know we’re capable of with a 3-0 win over Zaragoza led by a Cohen hat-trick, which took his tally for the season to just 9.

That much-needed win lifted us up to 8th in the league heading into Spain’s winter break which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really that bad. And my rating with the board has now gone up to C+.

Champions League group

We drew a decent Champions League group alongside AC Milan, Celtic and Club Brugge, which we should qualify from.

We got started at Club Brugge and did so very well with a 5-0 win in which all four scorers got their first goals of the season. Academy product left-back Juan Carlos got us started then Seegert, a Gutiérrez brace and a Carrillo long ranger. Then we beat Celtic 1-0 way thanks to Cohen’s second-half goal. A 0-0 draw at home to Milan had us in a relatively strong position, despite them demolishing us at San Siro.

Sancho eventually decided he was up for trying again and scored his first goal of the season to open the scoring at home to Club Brugge. Then a Cula penalty and a goal from substitute Rodolfo Ravera secured a 3-0 win that secured qualification. And a rotated 11 got a great 0-0 at Celtic.

We drew Man United again in the knockout stages, so that’s us out again!

Join us next time to discover if we can continue to recover our season or if the Valencia board decide to bring our Spanish adventure to an end. And, keep an eye out for the beginning of our international career with the USA in the upcoming Soccerball thread.

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