The next time Unai Emery’s side line up in the league, it will have been a month since their last win in La Liga and the table-topping strong start to the campaign will seem all the more distant.
Zaragoza dominated the early passages of play on Saturday and their 5-2-3 formation provided good movement and creativity, both in the midfield and in attack. Once 1-0 up, the visitors had three quick-fire chances to double the lead, but didn’t take any of them. Valencia continued with plan A, eventually playing their way back into the contest, dominating possession from the midway point of the first-half. However, the forward play was predictable and despite Zaragoza seeing Ander Herrera dismissed on 67 minutes, the visitors – by then in a 4-3-2 formation – looked as likely to hit Valencia on the break as Los Che did in breaking down their defence. It is telling to consider Valencia’s best player was goalkeeper Miguel Moya, whose saves kept the team in the contest at times.
Valencia returned to a 4-2-3-1 formation after the Mallorca defeat’s 4-3-3 failure, with Aritz Aduriz leading the line but struggling at times to influence play against three large centre-backs. Meanwhile, support from the wingers, in crosses and runs, was not as forthcoming as previous games, Pablo in particular failing to perform to his best. There were whistles at the end of the game, with critics and fans alike asking how a team that was performing so well under Emery’s game-by-game tactical and personnel shifts is now falling apart under them.
Criticism post-match is again falling on the Coach’s insistence to use formations other than the 4-4-2 system that is thought to get the best out of the side going forward. Aduriz and Roberto Soldado have struck up a mean understanding in the chances they have had together, showing a propensity to not only both represent genuine goalscoring threats in the penalty area from crosses, but also be the ones to provide those crosses and assists for each other, almost with telepathic understanding. Soldado – and thus the 4-4-2 – was introduced with 20 minutes to go at the weekend, but it proved too weak, with too little time to counter a well-drilled defensive unit.
It is understood Emery’s reluctance to use the two together is borne of a lack of alternative options in attack. The Coach has insisted he will rotate his squad to keep things fresh, and to include the squad’s only genuine frontmen Soldado and Aduriz in this, sometimes the formation will alter to keep them guessing.
However, as results have faltered, this same logic that seemed as sensible as it was successful is now believed to be holding the team back from building on their early-season form. Suggestions are growing that Emery’s attempt to keep the majority of players happy is now having a divisive affect on morale, with an undercurrent of bad feeling developing at the Mestalla, whilst the players’ reaction to falling behind in recent games – one of nerves and panic – clearly indicates all is not well.
There is concern that when Valencia have fallen behind to early goals, and against teams prepared to defend their lead, they have been unable to come up with the goods to win through. This lack of creativity, confidence and genuine leadership on the pitch cannot be pinned solely on tactics, but that is where the initial focus lies.
Emery insists the major issue at the moment stems from confidence: an over-confidence that saw the squad fail to take Mallorca and Zaragoza seriously enough, and now a fall in confidence off the back of dropping five points against them. The 38-year-old Coach is targeting a midweek win over Rangers to counter this and re-energise Valencia’s season, aware of the mental strength required for trips to Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Madrid on the horizon.