Football: New coach makes Valencia tick

Italian striker Simone Zaza (right) celebrating his hat-trick against Malaga with team-mate Santi Mina. Valencia have endured two tumultuous seasons in a row but it appears the Spanish sleeping giants are awakening.
Italian striker Simone Zaza (right) celebrating his hat-trick against Malaga with team-mate Santi Mina. Valencia have endured two tumultuous seasons in a row but it appears the Spanish sleeping giants are awakening.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Unbeaten streak shows Marcelino is building attack-based side that are big on self-belief

MADRID • After two disappointing seasons finishing 12th twice in the Spanish LaLiga, Valencia may have finally found the answer to their problems in new Spanish coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.

But the 52-year-old preferred to remain humble, pointing to how his players were the ones who had the "cutting edge" after Valencia thrashed Malaga 5-0 in the league on Tuesday.

"We're really pleased, and I'm tremendously proud of the players' attitude, how they're playing as a team, the ambition they're showing," he said on Valencia's official website.

"Today, we had the luck and performance to put five past them. But this doesn't mean we're going to score five goals every week.

"We've still got a lot of work to do. I think the fact that we got the win with nine points in the table, our five-game unbeaten run, the players deserve the credit.

"We must keep the same humbleness knowing that if we want to be a great team, we've got to keep showing it."

Italian striker Simone Zaza bagged an eight-minute hat-trick early in the second half, while Spanish forwards Santi Mina and Rodrigo scored the other goals for Valencia, who are owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim.

CONSISTENCY THE KEY

I'm tremendously proud of the players' attitude, how they're playing as a team... We must keep the same humbleness knowing that if we want to be a great team, we've got to keep showing it.

MARCELINO GARCIA TORAL, Valencia manager, wants his players to continue working hard and not get carried away by their fine start to the Spanish season.

Valencia have not lost in all five league games this season since Marcelino took charge in May, the sixth coach to be hired by Lim in two years.

Their unbeaten streak includes impressive draws against Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. And Tuesday's victory lifted Los Che up to provisional third place in the LaLiga table, with five league games set to be played this morning (Singapore time).

It may still be early in the season, but the 2-2 draw with Real at the Santiago Bernabeu on Aug 28 was perhaps the most telling sign that Valencia are improving under Marcelino, following two defeats there in their past two campaigns.

The Valencia coach said after that game: "We have competed - and very well - against the best team in the world, the team that beat Barcelona and Manchester United.

"We were still attacking in the final minutes, still looking towards their goal, which tells you that this is a competitive, ambitious team."

The result at the Bernabeu also revealed a team that fans could identify with at last.

The cover of Valencia newspaper Super Deporte summed it up: "Proud!"

"They lost two points but gained a team," another headline ran.

According to another local paper, El Mercantil Valenciano, it was "a draw that tastes like a return".

Marcelino has proved effective so far in his tactics: 4-4-2, tight, compact, extremely quick on the break, but always in numbers.

Transitions are his thing; he is not interested in possession for the sake of it. The clash at the Bernabeu offered a demonstration of that: He was right to insist on capitalising on the opportunities they had, springing forward to outnumber Real.

It is a staple of his style and with time and repetition, the decision-making of his players should improve.

It will not be for lack of work, that is for sure. Marcelino is very serious, every detail controlled. There are blood tests daily, an obsession with weight, the demands intense.

He is, players admit, "pesado" - Spanish for hard work. And while it can sound simplistic, that is probably exactly what Valencia needed.

"We're more competitive than we were before," Zaza said, which summed up the whole story at Valencia.

It is only the start but it is a start.

"I am proud of them," the modest Marcelino declared.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'New coach makes Valencia tick'. Print Edition | Subscribe