Valencia must fix brittle backline to go far
To go far in Champions League, Valencia owner must address brittle backline
PLAY-OFF, 2ND LEG
(Andrea Raggi 18, Elderson Echiejile 75)
(Alvaro Negredo 4)
- Valencia win 4-3 on aggregate
Singapore's remisier king needs to pick a couple of winners to keep his Champions League dream alive.
Peter Lim achieved a football ambition yesterday morning (Singapore time), when Valencia qualified for the tournament's group stage.
But if the club owner seeks further returns on his colossal investment, he must spend again.
Valencia's commitment cannot be faulted, but their backline is brittle.
The handicapped Spanish side held on at Monaco for a 4-3 aggregate victory, but may struggle to progress any further if today's draw proves unkind.
Understandably, their elevation to the group stages has switched emphasis to Spain becoming the first nation to have five teams qualify, with Valencia joining Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in the main draw.
Commentators who specialise in the bleeding obvious are using the magic number as proof that La Liga now trumps the English Premier League in terms of pedigree and quality.
This is hardly a Eureka moment for European football.
The world's best go to Spain. The rest go to England - until they improve enough to go to Spain. Nothing has changed. It's the same old song, the soundtrack of the modern footballer. It's Status Quo.
The more pressing concern for the Spaniards is how long the famous five can endure, with Valencia the obvious candidates to fall by the wayside.
Alvaro Negredo's deft chip was exquisite, but his side frayed at the edges in the closing stages, struggling to hold on after conceding two soft, avoidable goals.
In goal, Mathew Ryan represents a real football success story for Australia, the kid from a small town who succeeded his childhood idol Mark Schwarzer for the Socceroos before earning a dream move to Valencia.
He's the little A-League goalkeeper who could.
But the 23-year-old struggled against Monaco, flapping at a routine cross to set up an unnecessary goalmouth scramble that led to Andrea Raggi's opener in the 18th minute.
He hardly redeemed himself for the second in the 75th, pushing a comfortable free-kick towards Elderson Echiejile.
Monaco's substitute was offside and the goal should never have stood, but he was presented the opportunity nonetheless.
In front of Ryan, Ruben Vezo, 21, and Shkodran Mustafi, 23, were the centre-back pairing after Nicolas Otamendi left to join Manchester City.
But the youthful duo wobbled as Monaco hunted in packs in the final 15 minutes.
On the flanks, Daniel Parejo and Enzo Perez set the tempo in their opponents' half, but didn't backtrack with quite the same urgency, occasionally exposing Jose Gaya and Antonio Barragan at fullback.
Valencia held on, but fortune certainly favoured the brave.
Of course, coach Nuno Espirito Santo deserves credit for turning the club around, capitalising on Lim's huge cash injection to bring in Rodrigo Moreno and Andre Gomes and sign Negredo in a permanent deal.
Gomes is still injured, but Rodrigo was a thorn in Monaco's left side, pinning back their fullback and reducing the threat of a third, killer goal.
But Negredo made the real difference.
Beauty and The Beast came together in a moment of balletic grace that defied the striker's hulking physique. His fourth-minute finish made a statement to all the relevant parties.
The Spaniard began the first leg on the bench. He ended the second unbowed. It's much harder to drop a hero.
Lim got an immediate reward for his investment - believed to be around 27 million euros ($43.6m) - and Man City got an impertinent reminder of what might have been.
This was the one that got away; The Beast unleashed somewhere else. He showed glimpses of his undoubted calibre at City, but not enough.
Negredo's ongoing search for consistency is essential if Valencia are to overcome their defensive jitters.
Santos has so far spent wisely, establishing a compact 4-3-3 that allows Javi Fuego to play the industrious fulcrum for the likes of Rodrigo and the excellent Sofiane Feghouli on the right flank. Valencia's progress has been steady.
But slow and steady has never won Lim's race.
Just a year after buying the club, the Singaporean has overseen the Spanish side's qualification to the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2012.
The first flush of European success must be invigorating. It's also fleeting.
Valencia are back among the big boys, proud members of Spain's famous five in the Champions League. Their place at the top table is thoroughly deserved.
But they'll probably need Lim's cash to stay there.
By the numbers
5: Spain is the first country to have five teams in the Champions League group stages, after Valencia beat Monaco in the play-offs. The other sides are title-holders Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, last season's Europa League champions.
Nuno: We must replace Otamendi
SOON: Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo (above) hopes the club can sign a replacement for Nicolas Otamendi (below) before the transfer window closes. PHOTOS: AFP
Valencia's progress to the lucrative Champions League group stages yesterday morning (Singapore time) took them over a key hurdle in owner Peter Lim's push to return the La Liga club to the continent's elite.
Singaporean billionaire Lim bought a majority stake in Valencia last year and, while financial rules prevent him from splurging cash, the club seem to have made some astute signings to build the base for long-term success.
Lim's faith in Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santo also looks to be paying off, although Valencia cut it fine in the play-off second-leg tie at Monaco, losing 2-1 on the night, but progressing 4-3 on aggregate, after last week's 3-1 win at the Mestalla.
Beaten finalists in Europe's top club competition in 2000 and 2001, Valencia are back in the group stage for the first time since they reached the last 16 in 2012-13.
The defeat in Monaco served as a reminder that a top-class centre back is needed to replace Argentina international Nicolas Otamendi, who joined English Premiership side Manchester City last week.
German World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi, 23, is up to the task, but doubts remain over whether 21-year-old Portuguese Ruben Vezo has the necessary pedigree.
Nuno said that Valencia must now find a replacement for Otamendi before the transfer market closes.
"After this match, decisions must be made," said Nuno. "It's time to talk, to sit down and calmly analyse the market, what is on offer, who you can sign while adhering to Financial Fair Play rules.
"Otamendi's exit means we have to review the situation but, if we do bring someone in, he will have to contribute."
Nuno surprisingly decided to start with Alvaro Negredo up front against Monaco, leaving Paco Alcacer on the bench, but his selection was almost immediately vindicated, with the former City striker netting with a sublime chipped effort after just four minutes.
Monaco stormed back, equalising through Andrea Raggi before Elderson set up a frantic finale with his 75th-minute strike, but Valencia held on to seal their place in today's draw for the group stage.
"Everything you get in this life is through suffering and we suffered tonight," Nuno conceded. "But we remained united.
"We were great in the first half, we managed the game well, thanks in no small part to an awesome goal.
"Negredo did great today. I played him as we needed experience and this kind of players knows how to handle these situations.
"We now face an even greater challenge (in the group stage), but we have many great players in the squad and need to use them depending on the game and what we want out of it."
- Wire Services.