Our resident Valencianista Cesar Benoit bring us his preview of the big game Valencia v Chelsea in La Mestalla. Enjoy!
When Valencia sold diminutive midfielder Juan Mata to Chelsea before the end of the transfer window in August, Mata said he’d see his former club again in the Champions League final in May.
The reunion is coming sooner than expected, with Mata and his new team mates making a visit to the Mestalla in a vital Group E clash.
Both clubs are doing well domestically. Chelsea has started the season quickly under new coach Andre Villas-Boas.
Although they were beaten 3-1 by Manchester United a week ago, their early season form has been spectacular. They’re 4-1-1 and Mata’s incisive passing and quick runs into the box have certainly helped the Blues develop another wrinkle to their attack.
Valencia played an outstanding match against Barcelona in midweek, drawing the reigning European champions 2-2 at home. An ugly 1-0 loss to Sevilla on Saturday saw Los Che drop out of first place in La Liga. Nevertheless, coach Unai Emery’s men are playing well. They may miss Mata’s pace and passing, but fill-ins Pablo Hernandez, Pablo Piatti and Jonas have picked up the slack left by the Chelsea midfielder.
Chelsea defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 on Matchday One, goals by David Luiz and Mata. Valencia struggled against Belgian champions Genk, drawing 0-0 in a game they should have won.
How does this match shape up?
The atmosphere should be raucous at the Mestalla. Not only are Los Che playing one of football’s biggest clubs but former golden boy Mata is making his return to a stadium where he played for four seasons.
Mata deserves a standing ovation for all he’s given. After that, let’s hope Valencia runs rampant over the Blues.
Valencia will probably start with Vicente Guaita in goal. The youngster’s looked solid in the nets. The center defense partnership of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami has looked excellent so far. Unai Emery would do well to leave these two alone. They’ve reaped rewards so far.
The rest of the defense will probably come from a combo of Miguel, Jeremy Mathieu or Bruno. Miguel’s been focused since almost being released this summer. Bruno and Mathieu like to stretch opponent’s midfields, running and passing with aplomb. Bruno can be a defensive liability, so look for Emery to stick with the Frenchman Mathieu.
The midfield is where Valencia can win this match. Will Ever Banega or David Albelda be the midfield stopper? Albelda’s match fitness is in question. Banega can control a match from the back with his sharp passing and sneaky runs. That depends on his motivation, which comes and goes. So far, he’s looked mature this season.
Should Albelda be hurt, Tino Costa is an excellent replacement.
On the wings, Pablo Hernandez and Jordi Alba can cause havoc. In the middle, Jonas, Sergio Canales and Pablo Piatti can make Chelsea’s center defense quake in their boots. They’re quick, they’re energetic and they can score.
Up front, it’s all about Roberto Soldado. The man’s on fire, having scored 5 goals this season.
The 26-year-old striker is one of the many talented players who came through the Real Madrid youth system but was unable to make their mark on the first team.
Soldado doesn’t have superior technical ability, but he has a predatory instinct for goal. Much depends on whether Soldado can put the ball in the net for the home team.
Valencia have recent history with Chelsea. This is the teams’ fifth match since April 2007, Chelsea winning 2-1 on both previous trips to Mestalla. When they met in the 2007/08 group stage the London outfit’s victory came courtesy of an Emiliano Moretti own goal and Didier Drogba’s strike. It was Chelsea’s first European tie in the post-José Mourinho era.
The previous season the teams clashed in the quarter-finals. After a 1-1 first-leg draw in London, Fernando Morientes gave Valencia a 32nd-minute advantage in the return leg. But Andriy Shevchenko leveled early in the second period and Michael Essien’s 90th-minute goal took Chelsea into the semi-finals and broke many a Valencia supporter’s heart.
This match against Chelsea isn’t a must-win. Still, Valencia should start amassing points in the hope of advancing to the next round.
I expect a 2-2 draw, with Mata scoring against his old club and Soldado showing his poise in front of goal yet again.
What do you think?