Valencia turned back time in Mestalla in a win against Real Madrid to become the dogged, decisive team that everyone else hates but respects
See, Valencia fans are quite easy to please.
They are usually more than happy with a team that makes sacrifice, effort and commitment their main identity traits. Regardless of winning or not, the Mestalla stands are as fair as they come. They applaud any effort and condemn any lack of ambition.
Valencia fans, though, are perceived outside as too demanding and ungrateful. Media portrayals in the last couple of decades have decisively contributed to this view: instead of winding up admiration for a stadium that has propelled its players into excellence in the first years of the new century, when the club won several La Liga and European titles, all poor Mestalla tends to get is bad rep and criticism as “too harsh” an environment for players and coaches alike.
Mestalla showed once again its true nature on Wednesday evening (appalling scheduling, by the way), when Valencia dared to challenge Real Madrid’s supremacy and lived to tell the tale. A hell of a game (2-1) that had many nooks and crannies to pick apart, and with an outcome that sets fire to La Liga with a hefty third of the competition to go, when Sevilla and FC Barcelona could only dream of a Madrid stumble days before.
In the good old days, fans smiled when opposition crowds and chants pointed their fingers at that ‘effing Valencia CF’ (‘el puto Valencia’) that pestered everyone with irritating players, a fierce defense, a single-minded objective and sheer collective teamwork that trounced teams with ease and marched confidently towards title-contender status season after season.
No Valencia fan liked his team being highly praised for its playing style or attitude: fans loved being La Liga’s ‘bad boys’, the side with the least following and glamour, because those traits made them even more threatening to the ‘status quo’ firmly established by Barça and Real Madrid.
Last Wednesday, Voro Gonzalez’s men stormed onto the pitch with that vintage glint in their eyes. The game’s first ten minutes were a football bloodbath. Real tried garnering some sort of ball possession, while the men in white and black utterly destroyed them on the counter-attack.
Players ran madly up and down, putting pressure in the midfield, snatching the ball from Madrid’s skilled playmakers and wildly playing long balls seeking Simone Zaza’s magic touch. An example of Italian class came early in the game, when the forward controlled a ball inside the box, outmaneuvered Rafael Varane and put his half-turn strike in the angle. A total screamer, probably one of the top five goals Mestalla has seen and will see this season.
But, the party hadn’t finished yet for the home team. A few minutes later, a by-the-book counter-attack ended in Orellana’s feet, and the Chilean attacker didn’t hesitate when putting it in the back of the net. That was a 2-0 in eight minutes. The stands exploded and Madrid, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid, the team that had only lost a La Liga game to date, was stunned and very close to collapsing to the ground. That dizziness remained throughout the first half, though Cristiano Ronaldo’s great header in the last minute allowed the Merengues to seek some comfort in the locker room only one goal down.
Extreme fatigue started wearing down Los Ché while Real Madrid kept on the attack, although their premise seemed to be quite disappointing: even with Gareth Bale on the field they insisted on lobbing balls into the box, where Ezequiel Garay and Eliaquim Mangalá steadily heightened their airborne supremacy by repelling every attempt.
Meanwhile, Voro tried refreshing his midfield by inserting Carlos Soler next to a solid Enzo Perez, with Dani Parejo moving forward as the team’s beacon of light and guidance. Valencia’s number 10 completed an outstanding performance, world-class indeed.
Throughout the game, a couple of mistakes by the ref (should have called two penalties on Zaza and Munir El Haddadi) fired up Mestalla’s stands, who roared, cheered, booed and carried their team through their worst moments gearing up towards a heart-stopping final minutes, where an exhausted side fought tooth and nail against La Liga’s top dog. Madrid got a couple of clear chances in the final stretch, but the story would ultimately have a happy ending for the local team.
At the end of the day, one of Valencia’s worst seasons in this century has provided some memorable evenings against both Barça and Madrid, proving that the Bats are quite capable of striving for excellence one weekend and utterly appall their fans the next. Madrid disappointed with a flat performance and has landed itself in trouble, as other title contenders may try and capitalize on their stumble to close the gap in the championship race.
After the game, pundits and TV commentators once again talked about how motivated, pestering, annoying and tiresome the local side had been. ‘Effing Valencia’ became once again a trending topic on Twitter.