For Valencia, it felt like times were changing when Peter Lim first walked in as they ended a decade-long trophy drought by lifting the 2018-19 Copa del Rey with Marcelino at the helm. But the good times didn’t last long as a few months later, both Marcelino and the sporting director were gone. A year after Los Che lifted the trophy, the fans had taken to the streets to protest against the ownership. As if that wasn’t enough, the club kept selling their best players and at the same time, sacked more managers.
José Bordalás joined at the start of the 2021-22 campaign and once again the hope was back. The former Getafe boss led the club to the Copa del Rey final although he lost his job after a ninth-place finish. That, reportedly, didn’t match up to the demands and expectations that Lim and co had which didn’t go down well with the fans. But in hindsight, while Bordalás did have a ready-made excuse for why he struggled, there’s no denying that he did struggle.
Results and all the underlying statistics showed that Valencia were putting up numbers that were equivalent to a relegation side although they had Hugo Duro and Gonçalo Guedes to save them. Now with Bordalás gone and Gennaro Gattuso roped in as a replacement, the club have slowly started to rebuild themselves despite having to deal with losing captain Carlos Soler to PSG and Gonçalo Guedes to Wolves.
It has forced Gattuso’s hand but his firebrand personality and no-nonsense approach has already won over quite a few fans with there being signs that the Italian has managed to find a groove. The team has the youngest squad average in Europe (23.4 years) and with that will naturally come some inconsistency. And yet, unlike Bordalás, Gattuso has rarely moved from his standard 4-3-3 formation which has helped smooth things over.
It was made even easier by the fact that Gattuso and Bordalás have similar tactical minds although the Italian prefers his teams to have far more of the ball than the former Getafe coach. That has been evident alongside the fact that Valencia have now started playing more consistently out from the back although they’re yet to do it effectively. It has offered teams a chance to press them high and take advantage of that, exactly like Athletic Club did earlier this season.
It means that results on the pitch could be better and yet despite three losses and a draw in their opening seven games, things haven’t been all bad. All three losses were by a slim margin of one goal and even then, Valencia showed more gusto and guts than they did last season with them coming close to sneaking away with a point. That has been aptly shown in their wins because when things have clicked for Gattuso’s side, they’ve clicked superbly. Nothing proves that more than their 5-1 win over Getafe or a 3-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Los Che have the joint fourth best goals scored record and the sixth best goals against record. The Mestalla outfit currently sit in ninth place on 10 points after seven games. Gattuso’s side are three points behind Atlético Madrid in fifth place and five behind Real Betis in fourth. Gattuso’s biggest concern is that despite the fact that Valencia have scored 12 goals this season, they’re yet to find that consistent player to step up.
Their top scorer is Samu Castillejo with two goals, while the likes of Toni Lato, Mouctar Diakhaby, Marcos André, Samuel Lino and six other players are all tied on one. The more worrying factor is that their three forwards have netted just twice. New signing Edinson Cavani is yet to find the net even if game time has come sparingly for him as gets back to full fitness but both Hugo Duro and Marcos André have struggled.
Duro has shown sparks of consistency in the past, as he finished the 2021-22 season with 10 goal contributions in the league, but André has struggled to do the same. The 25-year-old made 29 appearances last season but his failure to find the net (1 league goal in 2021-22) meant that he was often used as an option off the bench. That has changed under Gattuso although the Italian is still trying to find the best man to lead his line and has often switched the three men around.
Valencia have been mired in mid-table mediocrity for a while and neither their owners nor their fans are happy with that. They expect more and while Gattuso has done rather well so far, only time will tell just how far he can take this young squad.