Last season saw Valencia get the takeover that they had been waiting quite a while to achieve. Peter Lim a billionaire from Singapore took the club over with intentions to compete amongst the best in La Liga and Europe once again. The appointment of manager Nuno Espirito Santo come as somewhat a surprise to Valencia fans but after last season’s success the future seemed bright for Nuno at the Mestalla. The fourth place finish last season saw the club return to Champions League football and place Nuno amongst one of the top young managers not just in Spain but in Europe.
Nuno is 41 years of age, young for a manager and took part of his managerial style from his time working with Jose Mourinho at FC Porto. As a player he was a goalkeeper, not normally a platform to develop into a top manager, though from his successful stint as manager of Rio Ave during his time in Portugal a move to a higher club was inevitable. The pressure of the bigger clubs is evident when seeing the pressure on managers across Europe and now at Valencia; Nuno has to deal with this situation.
After a very indifferent start to the season Valencia find themselves in 8th place in La Liga after six games. Early in the season but they find themselves seven points of the pace and have only taken 9 points from these games. Their performances have been nowhere near the level of last season so far and the home defeat to Zenit in the opening group game of the Champions League has really added the scrutiny on Nuno. Beating Lyon away from home in the second game seems to have eased a bit of pressure on Nuno but there are still sections of the Valencia support calling for his head. These fans have voiced their displeasure at the erratic start of the season during Valencia’s last two games, during and at the end of their 1-0 home win against Granada and during their defeat to Espanyol. The way Valencia are playing is the biggest concern, last season saw them pressure teams all over the pitch, working hard for each other and when attacking moving the ball quickly and with urgency, this season so far we haven’t seen anything like that. The play with the ball is far too slow and without the ball, they look to drop off teams and drop further back defensively.
There are different factors which have led to this start from Valencia. The appointment of Phil Neville as the assistant manager is a shake up to the back room staff, an extremely talented coach, though working with a group in Spain must be tough for both the players and Neville respectively. The loss of number one goalkeeper Diego Alves for six months during the last game of last season at home to Almeria is a hard loss to take for Valencia. The Brazilian goalkeeper plays a big role at the club, a top class goalkeeper who kept thirteen clean sheets last season but also he is a leader for the team, amongst the best goalkeepers in Spain and throughout Europe. Such a loss would affect any team; an example is Man City without Joe Hart. The sale of Otamendi to Manchester City is a big loss to Valencia; he formed a terrific partnership with Skrodan Mustafi and to get that balance right again will be hard for Nuno and his team. Otamendi also gave Valencia the platform to push higher up the pitch to pressure teams which new signing and in demand Aymen Abdennour from Monaco doesn’t possess. New signing Mathew Ryan from Club Bruges was meant to fill the gap left by Diego Alves after his injury though Ryan has struggled with injuries himself, leaving Valencia with their third choice goalkeeper in between the sticks.
The good news for Nuno is that he has a very capable squad; new signings Santiago Mina and Zakaria Bakkali are both young attacking players and need some time to really make a difference for the club. They have quality throughout their squad, players such as Jose Gaya at left back is still only 20 but regarded amongst the best in his position in the world. Spanish internationals Pablo Alcacer and Daniel Parejo are both important players and could very much ease the pressure on Nuno. Alcacer known for his predatory instincts in front of goal and Parejo is one of the most technically gifted players in La Liga and a great leader in his captain role. Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli are both full internationals and are real attacking players who can fill positions across the pitch and they could really make a difference to any side in Europe.
The pressure has mounted on the Valencia manager but he seems to be a strong manager with a strong character, which is needed. The latest defeat away to a struggling Athletic Bilbao will do Nuno absolutely no favours especially being a goal in the lead.