Preview: Real Madrid – Valencia CF
New coach Pellegrino could hardly have gotten a more difficult start to his campaign, as Valencia starts the league away to defending champions Real Madrid. For someone who debuts as a coach at the highest level, it must be like racing against Fernando Alonso right after aquiring your driver’s license!
The Madrid club have been very relaxed in the transfer market this summer, with the possible exception of Luka Modric. It’s because they don’t have to. Not only do they have top shelf players in all positions, but they could easily field another eleven who would also have the potential to beat whoever they meet. Add to this the tactical genious of José Mourinho, and it’s hard to imagine a team more terrifying.
Real Madrid won last season with a record 100 points as Mou’s squad have become more coherent as a unit, and there’s no reason to expect anyting else now.
If there might be a crack in the Real Madrid wall, it must be in defence. Valencia were among the few teams that put Pepe & co to the test last season when they nearly upset Real Madrid at home, narrowly losing 3-2. No new players have been bought in this department, so Los Che have to try and exploit the same gaps.
Real Madrid’s lineup will most probably be Casillas-Arbeloa, Pepe, Carvalho, Sergio Ramos-Xabi, Khedira, Özil, Ronaldo, Di Maria-Benzema. Callejon has had a great pre-season, where Real Madrid only faultered against Benfica in a 5-2 loss. Apart from that they beat AC Milan 5-1, with an amputated squad because of the Euros and Olympics.
Expect Mou to field five midfielders, as he is a big fan of always trying to have a player more than the opposition there. Most likely they will put pressure on Valencia high up on the pitch, disrupting their buildup play, and overwhelm them on the counterattack. That’s how they scored all their three goals at Mestalla last year, and what gave them a record goal tally last season.
So what can Valencia do? Even if nobody in their right mind expect them to win, that is exactly why Pellegrino replaced Emery ; to win the big matches. But in his first match of importance for the club, with a team in transition, we should see it as another warmup match.
Pellegrino’s style of play seems to be very different in many aspects than Emery’s, if the preseason is anything to go by. Also the transfer moves to Mestalla hints at a change from possesion-oriented, slow buildup play towards a counterattacking style, not caring so much about possesion statistics.
He might even opt for a flat 4-4-2, emphasising play on the sides. Here Gago and Tino/Albelda sits deep in central midfield, serving channel runners like Guardado and Feghouli on the wings. This should make the transition from defence to attack faster than before.
If Pellegrino dares to risk being numerically inferior in central midfield against Real Madrid is another matter, as Valencia probably won’t have much possesion anyway. So expect him to field a traditional 4-2-3-1 since the players are more used to that system.
The biggest test will be in defence, obviously. The last half of last season was abysmal in that department, where the back line seemed to lack proper organization. The fans are very eager to see Pellegrino remedy that, returning Valencia back to the days when he was a player.
Valencia travel to Madrid with the following squad ;
Goalkeepers : Diego Alves, Felipe Ramos
Defenders : Barragan, Joao Pereira, Rami, Victor Ruiz, Ricardo Costa, Mathieu
Midfielders : Gago, Albelda, Parejo, Guardado, Feghouli, Tino Costa, Pablo Hernandez, Piatti, Viera
Attackers : Soldado, Jonas, Valdez
Soldado and Mathieu were dubious with slight injuries, but are now ready for the big match. Absent are Banega and Canales with long-term injuries, while Guaita suffers with wrist inflammation, and is ruled out of Sunday’s clash.
Some of those in the squad might not start as they just had national team duty, like Guardado (who also had a long flight back), or because they’ve just arrived and need time to blend into the team, like Haedo Valdez and Gago.
Most likely lineup ; Alves – Joao Pereira, Rami, Ricardo Costa, Mathieu – Feghouli, Tino Costa, Albelda, Piatti – Jonas – Soldado
Pellegrino tried Viera as a left midfielder in training recently, but also commented that he needs to improve his team play. Viera impressed during preseason, but regarding the opposition, Pellegrino will most likely field players with more experience at this level.
The biggest question is the double pivot. Will Gago play alongside Tino, which have been proclaimed as a partnership already? Or will they use a more traditional setup with creative Parejo alongside seasoned grinder Albelda. Considering the amount of muscle and speed of this encounter, the former pair seems the most likely choice. But with Gago’s limited time with the squad, and with Parejo’s limited defensive qualities, an Albelda/Tino pairing might be the answer.
As everybody knows, Valencia need to be on top of their game if they want to get anything from this match. Personally I would like to see them generate chances, and work organized in defence. Attack must be very fast and precise to catch a hardworking home team on the break.
Remember, Rafa Benitez beat Real Madrid in his debut as coach for Valencia. And Benitez was Pellegrino’s prime mentor. Hopefully his pupil can emulate that to get a great start to the season.
Points for discssion:
- What do you think the suitable lineup for this game is ?
- What are your predictions for the game ?