Marcelino was appointed as Valencia coach back in 2017 with one thing in mind: returning Los Che to Europe’s elite club competition. Handed a two-year deal, a length unprecedented at a club familiar with managerial chopping and changing, their ultimate dream arrived ahead of schedule.
Through clever transfer business off the pitch and an organised, demanding system on it, Valencia find themselves back among the continent’s big boys in the Champions League, a tournament that they have already participated in for a total of 10 seasons. They belong under the floodlights in midweek action.
After three years of absence, having lost their way for a couple of dark, underachieving campaigns, the club followed on from the recent permanent marquee signing of Goncalo Guedes by being drawn in Group H alongside Juventus, Manchester United and Young Boys.
It is a tough return to the Champions League, but it is not an impossible task that lies ahead. Juventus may now count upon Cristiano Ronaldo, who is hell-bent on breaking new records and scoring more goals with his new club, but the Serie A titans will be tested on their visit to Mestalla. Manchester United, too, have been more of walking news story in recent weeks than a football team, and that instability is something that Valencia have wheedled out in the last year or so.
Guedes’ signing ensures that there can be no excuses when discussing Los Che’s summer transfer window. Without the Portugal international, the argument existed that they were weaker on the basis of them losing that raw pace and star quality down their left flank, but since securing his services from Paris Saint-Germain, their other business has bolstered useful areas without setting the world alight.
Denis Cheryshev is fresh off the back of a great World Cup tournament and injury free, offering a real upgrade as depth on the left wing whenever Guedes isn’t available or performing well. Daniel Wass was snapped up on a free from Celta Vigo and is capable of playing all across the midfield line and at right back. Throw in the bonus of the Dane’s set-piece capabilities and he will be a very useful addition indeed.
Despite a slow start to the season for Cristiano Piccini, the former Sporting right back should prove to be an upgrade on the error-prone performances from Martin Montoya last campaign, while Mouctar Diakhaby provides more depth at centre back – an area where Marcelino has had terrible fortune in terms of picking up injuries.
The arrivals of both Michy Batshuayi and Kevin Gameiro ensure that Valencia have both experience and quality to add to their forward line, alongside an unrecognisable Rodrigo Moreno.
One of Marcelino’s biggest success stories has been turning the Spanish striker’s stagnant career around, with his goal against Atletico Madrid on LaLiga’s opening weekend showing that he isn’t about to slow down yet. Valencia, too, will want to be quick to stamp out any murmurs of second-season syndrome.
One of the most important deals of the summer saw Geoffrey Kondogbia remain at Mestalla permanently. The Frenchman didn’t make the cut for Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning squad in Russia, but offered the perfect counterweight alongside Dani Parejo in central midfield. Able to shield his back four, as well as driving forward on the ball and keeping possession ticking over, the former Sevilla midfielder was one of LaLiga’s revelations in 2017/18.
Whenever the likes of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid pay Mestalla a visit, the home crowd expects. During late evening fixtures in Europe, there will be no reason why local fans won’t be available to make the journey across the city or the region to see their club return to the top table. The atmosphere will be fierce, with the streets outside the ground filled to the brim with expectant fans, some two or three hours before kick off.
LaLiga clubs are well aware of the task at hand when they face Valencia on the road. This Champions League draw could act as a timely statement for the rest of Europe as to just what they can expect when they go up against Los Che in the Marcelino era. After holding onto their star talents, there is no reason why qualification for the knock-out stages shouldn’t be very much on the cards.
By Simon Harrison