Valencia all but back in Champions

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They’re all talking about that long run in the dressing room,” Gabriel Paulista said. It had been 14 years, after all. On Saturday afternoon, Valencia beat Sevilla 2-0 at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, the first time they had won there since May 2004, back when Pep Guardiola was a midfielder, not a manager, Lionel Messi had not played a senior game and Sergio Ramos was just Authentic Michael Jordan Jersey starting out, a 19-year-old dreaming of Claudio Caniggia. Of the 30 footballers who took to the field that day, he and Dani Alves are the only ones still going and now have 52 titles between them. Then, they had one. Sevilla, the record-holding, five-times Uefa Cup/Europa League winners, had never even won the trophy once. And as for Valencia: well, they were the best team in Spain.

Things have changed, all right. One thing that didn’t was the result. Back then, goals from Vicente Rodríguez and Rubén Baraja gave Valencia victory; better still, victory carried them to the league title, for the second time in three years under Rafa Benítez. Ten days later, they won the Uefa Cup, too. This time, 14 years and no Valencia victories later, two goals from Rodrigo Moreno secured a win that also carried Valencia back to the Champions League, all but guaranteeing Womens P. A. Parenteau Jersey them at least fourth place as it lifted them 11 points, plus head-to-head goal difference clear of their opponents in fifth.

“Until we’re mathematically there, we can’t say so but this is a big victory, and it puts us in a position we would have all signed up for, so we’re tremendously happy,” said Marcelino García Toral, the Valencia manager. When it was suggested to Rodrigo that it would take a “disaster” for them not to make it, he replied: “Football is made up of disasters.” But it’s virtually done. Valencia have to lose at least four times to miss out Womens Tony Romo Jersey when they have only lost six in La Liga all season. A few weeks ago, Marcelino insisted: “We’re not doing all this work to finish fifth or sixth.” No, they were doing all this work to finish in the top four. Now, they almost certainly will.
“We have to celebrate this,” Gabriel said.
It is only a little more than two years since Valencia were in the Champions League, so a return may not seem like a watershed but that’s how it felt and there was something in the celebrations at full time that spoke to that sensation. Their last night in the competition was Gary Neville’s first at the club, a limp exit against Lyon, and they finished that season closer to relegation than Europe; for much of last season, they threat was the same. Two consecutive 12th-placed Jeremy Lane Youth jersey finishes represented their worst campaigns for 27 years and since that defeat they have changed presidents, brought in more than a dozen players, shipped out more than 30 of them and had five managers.
But then this summer everything changed. Anil Murthy took over as president, Mateu Alemany became the director general and Marcelino was hired as coach. During pre-season in the US this summer, he was unhappy about how dry the pitch was; 10 minutes later, the local fire department was hosing it down. For staff, who have kept photos, it was symbolic of the seriousness and the attention to detail, as well as the determination. It was also just the start. The diet was changed, the style, too. Captain Dani Parejo admitted the players were going “hungry”. He meant it literally but it was also felt metaphorically: the talent was there and Marcelino recovered footballers whose level had dropped and brought in others with something to prove. He even got a goal out of winter arrival Francis Coquelin. Marcelino also got rid of those likely to get in the way; the clean up began.
Now, they’re virtually back in the Champions League.
In the end, when it came down to it, when it came to fourth against fifth for a Champions League place, Valencia at Sevilla 10 weeks from the end, three touches were pretty much all it took to get them there. In a game in which Sevilla hit the bar, had a penalty shout turned down and drew a superb save from Neto, when they had more of the ball, more shots and more chances, Geoffrey Kondogbia’s wonderful 40-yard pass came out of the blue. Long, diagonal and over the defence, it found Rodrigo, who controlled superbly and slotted in the first. They were all set. Kondogbia, described by one paper as “brutal, unstoppable, immense, a total footballer”, then burst through two challenges to provide the second in the second half, again finished off by Rodrigo.


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