Following the early-season international break, LaLiga makes a welcome return this weekend. Attentions now turn to Atlético Madrid’s trip to meet Valencia at Mestalla on Saturday.
Recent years have not been kind to los Che. While the not-too-distant past saw Valencia take home two league titles and compete in back-to-back Champions League finals, the club has fallen on hard times both on and off the pitch. A series of ill-fated, rapid-fire managerial changes and player sales led to Valencia battling relegation for a time last season, but they eventually finished 13th.
It’s difficult to judge so soon into a new season, but there are signs of life after this tumultuous period. An opening victory over Las Palmas was followed up by a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu, meaning that Valencia and Atlético both go into the game on four points and looking to maintain solid starts.
The summer transfer window saw additions across the field, including Gabriel Paulista from Arsenal, Andreas Pereira from Manchester United and penalty-wizard Simone Zaza, but the most important arrival could be new manager Marcelino. The Asturian arrives with a reputation for changing fortunes after a promotion and successive top six finishes with Villarreal. If the manager can galvanise this Valencia squad in a similar manner, los Che could compete for a European spot once again.
Player to watch: Geoffrey Kondogbia
Another new arrival at Mestalla, 24-year-old Kondogbia previously made a name for himself at Sevilla, Monaco and Inter Milan. Strong, tough-tackling and good on the ball, Kondogbia excels as both midfield spoiler and creative outlet. He capped an impressive Valencia debut with a goal, a smart finish past Keylor Navas into the bottom corner.
Valencia fans will point to the 1999 Copa del Rey final as the start of their golden era. A side featuring Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta and Santi Canizares strolled to a 3-0 win over Atlético to take their sixth Copa del Rey title.
Following the result, Valencia boss Claudio Ranieri jumped ship and took over at the Calderon. What followed was sadly not a similarly golden period for Atleti, as the Tinkerman walked away from the role after less than a season and los colchoneros suffered relegation.
More recently, a Raúl García goal at Mestalla in April 2014 was the difference between the two sides as Atlético took a vital three points. A ninth straight win in front of a vast section of away fans kept up the momentum at the top of the table, and Atleti went on to become league champions.
David Villa, part of the title-winning Atlético team, has tasted silverware as a player for both sides. Before lifting LaLiga with Atleti, El Guaje picked up the Copa del Rey with Valencia in 2008, as his side dispatched Getafe 3-1 at the Vicente Calderón.