The 2018/19 season ended in a splendid way for Valencia Football Club. The Bats won their first trophy since 2008 with a huge performance against FC Barcelona. The Club also succeeded to secure the fourth place In La Liga, and Champions League qualification as a result.
Though, Valencia struggled to maintain a constant performance level during the last La Liga Campaign. The team went on several ‘out of form’ periods due to multiple reasons. As of now, the big objective is clear for “Los Ches”. They need to reduce the gap between them and the other three La Liga giants. The next step to take is to go beyond the role of a tough opponent and be a real competitor in the title race.
How can the arrivals and departures affect Valencia’s 2019-20 season?
On one hand, there are the arrivals of Jasper Cillessen, Maxi Gomez and Denis Cheryshev from respectively Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Villareal. On the other hand, Valencia let Neto go to the Catalan giant and sold Simone Zaza to Torino. These are, until now, the most striking transfers of the summer market. This is clearly not over as rumours about the potential departures of Rodrigo Moreno and Mouctar Diakhaby are still running.
Even if we just consider the changes that took place, those ones may impact the team’s general tendencies.
First, bringing in Cillesen could ease the ball movement process in general. His role can become crucial in phases where the team is under pressure. This is essentially due to two big reasons. First, Cillessen has better passing skills than Neto. Secondly, he does identify the passing lines and the target players faster than Neto. This gives the Dutch goalkeeper a few milliseconds in addition to identify the best pass to play.
To show this we can look at last season’s numbers. (Though, we must take into account that Cillesen had played very few matches in La Liga). The ex-Barcelona keeper had on average 10 more passes per match than Neto. He had also a better success ratio. Over 10 passes Cillesen would get seven to eight correct ones compared to just five for Neto.
Also, the arrival of Maxi Gomez will add more mobility and presence inside the midfield. Gomez is a striker who makes a lot of movements dropping back. He likes to get the ball at his feet and carry into danger zones. He is also part of the narrowed circle of central forwards that goes to the centre to get the ball. The Uruguayan striker has some similarities with Rodrigo Moreno, especially when it comes to the ball running. Playing side to side this duo would be pure joy for midfielders who will find dynamic solutions for combinations.
However, the fact that Gomez does look like Valencia’s most prolific striker may leave one to think that the first is here to replace the second when he leaves.
Scheme’s development compared to last year?
During last season and under Marcelino in general, Valencia had evolved in a flat 4-4-2 shape which had rarely changed. As said above the team’s squad did not change radically. Most of the signings were made to replace players who are gone. Most probably, they will play quite the same role as their predecessors. This says that the team will keep the same structure as the last year. This is at least what appears on paper until mid-July.
This 4-4-2 structure cited below is often criticised due to its lack of presence at the heart of the field. It looks like there is one element missing to link the two side midfielders to each other but also the central midfielders to the attacker. A typical player distribution in such structure looks like this.
In this picture below, you can clearly observe the large spaces that separate attackers from midfielders. If one of the two central midfielders gets the ball in the centre lane, there will be no passing line towards the centre available for him.
The other central midfielder will often remain at the same height as him and the unique solution is maybe dropping back from one of the attackers to get the ball between the lines. Though, even if this first step does succeed, I personally do not see the logic and realisable progression after it. The attacker will have to play a back pass as he will be back to the net and narrowly marked. There is no third tier who is positioned between the lines that can make a run or look for a combination. The ball just goes back to the initial passer.
This is one of the typical problems you may encounter when aligning a flat 4-4-2. A similar situation did happen several times to Marcelino’s team last year. Even if they tried to find solutions through the flanks, this player distribution had often blocked their advancement. It made the switch to the flanks an obligation rather than a choice. It then became something predictable by the opponent.
Beyond these deficiencies, this 4-4-2 system does have its advantages. The defensive and transition phase becomes a lot easier. Defensively, the teams maintain a compact disposition with the slightest effort. They would have two lines of four players which are close to each other. Also, distances between players of the same line are reduced to the maximum. In my opinion, this defensive organisation is the most balanced one. The four players are enough to be able to close down all pass options in what we call the “mutual help space” without letting the other side of the pitch completely empty.
Tactical Behaviour’s changes?
The main thing to notice about Valencia’s tactics during last season is their tendency to go into flanks. Either during organised build-up phase or a fast counter-attack, the “Naranjas” would try to send the ball to their wingers at some moment. I’ve said previously that the Bats constrained to play that way at some moments. They also did at multiple times, destabilising their opponent by moving the ball to the side through different manners.
The sequence on the picture above does start at an early stage of the build-up phase. The Valencia central defender quits the centre and moves into the left half-space. At the same moment, one central midfielder and one full-back move respectively to the right and the left side of the ball carrier. The defender arrives at the ball until the mid-line where he looks to find a solution between the lines.
This kind of play can be developed in a different way next season. As of now, Denis Cheryshev is definitively transferred to Valencia. It will be interesting to see an inverted full-back system if the Russian occupies that left flank. Cheryshev is left-footed and does play a lot on the left side. From that position, he is more able to make fast runs at the back of defenders in order to cross than to try to cut inside the pitch. If he sticks to the sideline and tries to attract the side-back/midfielder to open spaces for Gaya, he can later receive the ball in the free space. This could be an interesting solution against teams who have more than four players at their midfield line.
Another example of the play towards the flanks is shown in the picture below. Here Francis Coquelin sends a long ball in the direction of Guedes who makes a run parallel to the sideline. This immediately breaks the opponent first defensive line and gives Guedes a very interesting one-versus-one duel. This type of passes can also be used in the direction of the goal with a “sharp” ball call. Carlos Soler, due to his attacking background, is perfectly able to make these calls.
The changes that occurred at Valencia, until the writing of these words are not monumental. The team will potentially continue to evolve in the same structure as last season. Though, Marcelino will need to make a deep analysis of some opponents. He needs to find solutions especially against teams that defend aggressively.
Finally, consistency is the key to perform a memorable La Liga campaign. You will surely need more than 14 or 15 reliable players to be able to always perform at the highest level. It’s important that Valencia does invest more money or try to keep all players if the sporting goal passes the economic one.