Life without Otamendi begins with a vital victory

A late strike by Sofiane Feghouli (centre) gave Spanish side Valencia a two-goal cushion heading into next week’s Champions League play-offs second leg against French side Monaco.
A late strike by Sofiane Feghouli (centre) gave Spanish side Valencia a two-goal cushion heading into next week’s Champions League play-offs second leg against French side Monaco. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VALENCIA • Valencia began life without Nicolas Otamendi by getting one foot inside the lucrative Champions League group stages.

The Argentina international defender was left out of the squad that secured a 3-1 victory at the Mestalla over Monaco in the first leg of their play-off round tie on Wednesday.

Yesterday, he signed a five-year deal with two-time English Premier League champions Manchester City, after the clubs agreed a fee believed to be in the region of £34 million (S$75 million).

The deal makes the 27-year-old the second most expensive defender in British transfer history behind new team-mate Eliaquim Mangala.

When it comes to Otamendi, Valencia's loss is City's gain.

"Otamendi was arguably the best defender in La Liga last season and so naturally I'm delighted to have added a player of his quality," said City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

"As a footballer, Nicolas has all of the qualities to be a success in the Premier League - he's strong, he's excellent in the tackle and he's very good technically."

Otamendi was arguably the Spanish side's top performer last season. He made a total of 258 clearances - more than any other player in La Liga - as Valencia finished fourth.

But Valencia more than survived without him at the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Goals from Rodrigo, Dani Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli handed Valencia a clear advantage going into the second leg of their Champions League play-off in the principality on Tuesday.

They got off to the perfect start when Rodrigo tapped home the opener only four minutes into the game.

Monaco rallied and levelled early in the second half through Mario Pasalic.

However, last season's quarter-finalists were undone by poor defending, as Parejo's deflected effort and a late strike from Feghouli put Valencia in the driving seat for a return to the group stages for the first time in three years.

"It was a good game, and it was fundamental for us to win today," said Valencia head coach Nuno Espirito Santo. "It is a game that has been in our heads since the last league game in Almeria."

However, Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim believed his side deserved more and blasted the performance of English referee Mark Clattenburg.

The French side felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Anthony Martial was brought down by Jose Gaya near the byeline when the score was 2-1.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Life without Otamendi begins with a vital victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe