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Know Thine Enemy: Valencia CF-Atlético Madrid Q&A with Andrew Gaffney

Plus, how you can watch this season-opening partidazo.

Valencia v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Valencia’s summer: great, good or bad?

I think their summer business has been really smart up until now. Signing Kondogbia on a permanent deal was a no-brainer as he was such a key part of Valencia’s success last season — and there was definitely interest from richer, “bigger” sides.

Wass is another fantastic signing. Anyone who’s watched Celta Vigo in recent years will know all about the Dane. He’s ready to make the step up and, like Kondogbia, was sold on the Valencia project immediately. His versatility is another bonus, but I hope he isn’t shoved into a makeshift right back role at some point this season because it’d be a waste of his talent.

Cheryshev on loan is also smart. The form he showed at the World Cup — and the glowing recommendations from those at Villarreal — mean that he’ll be given another chance to prove himself in LaLiga. Hopefully he can avoid injuries and give Valencia a reason to make his deal permanent next summer.

Batshuayi came out of nowhere but is yet more really smart business. I’m not sure Valencia would sanction a €50m deal for the Chelsea loanee even if he was great this year, unless they were losing someone influential from the squad. A bit like Cheryshev, Batshuayi has been good in spells at his other clubs but could be the signing if he stays fit and slots in quickly at Mestalla.

The only concern I have is in defence. It’s early but Diakhaby looks a smart addition at centre back as Murillo, who started so strongly, has fallen off the pace somewhat. Right back is a major problem. They sold Montoya, who wasn’t great, and replaced him with Piccini, who never really blew me away at Betis either. And that’s it — no other natural full back to cover the Italian. Vezo, at a push, can play there but it’s going to be a long season and it seems like an unnecessary risk.

As for Gonçalo Guedes, let’s see what happens. Valencia are confident they can get a deal done in time — and to PSG’s satisfaction — but the two sides are miles apart in their evaluations at the moment.

Portugal v Morocco: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Gonçalo Guedes is yet to get his permanent move to los Che.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

What do you envisage ex-Atlético Madrid forward Kévin Gameiro will add to Marcelino’s attack?

Valencia fans’ reaction to this signing was lukewarm. I’m not sure whether that’s because they felt it was a lot of money for a 31-year-old who’s scored a combined 19 LaLiga goals in his last two seasons or because it meant that fan favourite Simone Zaza would definitely leave (he also has 19 goals across his last two seasons in LaLiga).

Gameiro is someone Marcelino knows well and will be desperate to prove he can still be a regular goalscorer for a top team. He’s a solid finisher, works his socks off and won’t sulk if he doesn’t start every week. It’s very much a Marcelino signing. He clearly wants four strikers at the club and Gameiro will get ample chances to prove his worth, plus has more experience than those he’s competing with for a first team spot.

Will Valencia struggle to balance LaLiga and the Champions League?

That’s the concern, of course. Everything looked great under Nuno in his first season in charge, with very little pressure on his shoulders, but the added stress of the Champions League — plus other factors — meant it came crashing down in his second season.

Valencia do seem a lot more prepared this time around. Bar any late departures — Rodrigo to Real Madrid is a rumour that won’t go away and would be a disaster at this point — they’re strong across the board. Right back is an issue as I mentioned, but Marcelino doesn’t seem too concerned about it. Maybe they need one more marquee signing, like Guedes, who could turn them from making up the numbers in the Champions League to being a genuine threat to the biggest sides.

Valencia v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre-Season Friendly
Kangin Lee of Valencia celebrates after scoring a goal during the pre-season friendly match between Valencia CF and Bayer Leverkusen at Estadio Mestalla on August 11, 2018 in Valencia, Spain.
Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Similar to Kondogbia and Rodrigo last year, who will break out at Mestalla this season?

All the hype in Valencia is about Kangin Lee. The South Korean star is only 17 years old but is incredibly talented and was involved throughout their preseason campaign.

Marcelino takes an active role in the progression of the academy players. He did the same at Villarreal, and that’s why the likes of Soler, Ferran Torres and Toni Lato haven’t followed other youngsters out of the door looking for regular minutes. They know they’ll get a chance if they’re good enough.

Too much pressure shouldn’t be put on Kangin to perform, though. He’s young but has the self-confidence to push himself into the first team picture. I imagine over the course of the season we’ll begin to see more of him.

Games between Marcelino and Simeone are always tight. See this one going any differently?

I’ll be honest — I’m not expecting a classic. It could be like watching two Snorlaxes duel in Pokémon. I can’t see either side dominating to the extent there’s a two- or three-goal margin in someone’s favour, so reckon it’ll be yet another tight affair.

Possible XI

Oblak; Juanfran, Savić, Godín, Filipe Luís; Koke, Saúl, Correa, Lemar; Griezmann, Costa.

Predicted scoreline


How to watch

Date: Aug. 20, 2018

Location: Mestalla, Valencia, Spain

Kickoff time: 8:00 p.m. CEST, 7:00 p.m. GMT/BST, 2:00 p.m. EST, 11:00 a.m. PST

SB Nation opposition blog: N/A

Available TV/streaming: beIN LaLiga, Movistar + (Spain), Eleven Sports 1 (United Kingdom), beIN Sports, beIN Sports Connect (United States), beIN Sports 2 (France), QQ Sports Live (China)