When we last did this Q&A, Valencia were reeling from a summer of infighting and the Marcelino sacking. The results of late have been uneven, but how would you assess where VCF are right now?
I would say that Valencia peaked in early December with their win vs. Ajax in Amsterdam Arena, and since are having quite a few problems to recover the level they showed backed then. That win happened after an amazing showcase of defensive commitment of the squad, who have lost the tactical discipline and defensive ability they had when Marcelino was the manager but managed to compensate with a tremendous display of physicality. And the squad are paying for the effort in the form of long-term injuries and overall exhaustion. The best example — the way they were run over by Getafe last week.
Los Che signed Alessandro Florenzi from Roma last month and (again) managed to keep Rodrigo Moreno. Were you pleased with the winter window?
Not really, because the manager himself isn’t pleased with the way things have been handled. Albert Celades arrived in September in the middle of a storm and his first step was to bring the squad into the fold, becoming one of them and trying not to be perceived as “the enemy.” He succeeded in that area, but his two requests to the board — the need for another centre-back due to his lack of confidence in Eliaquim Mangala, and a big need for a right-back as Thierry Correia isn’t prepared to compete at top-flight — were not taken care of immediately. In January, Celades only got one of his wishes with the arrival of Florenzi... and then was crushed when Ezequiel Garay suffered his serious knee injury.
Actually, everybody expects the signing of another CB to happen in the next few days, but Valencia’s board are not really sure they’re able to find an appropriate replacement.
I understand Valencia have their own mini-injury crisis. Where does the team stand health-wise entering this match?
I’m not really sure the team is on a season-low level...but they’re pretty close. Since the first few games of 2020 the squad has been sending worrying signs of exhaustion — not only because of the injuries piling up (averaging four or five players out every single week since September is definitely not normal, maybe sacking the whole physical and training staff and bringing in new people in Matchday 3 wasn’t the brightest idea), but because they’re running so much every single game to compensate for poor positioning on the pitch that when big games come around, the team is out of gas. Atlético Madrid, at least beforehand, seem to be in better shape.
How confident are you feeling about the Atalanta tie?
Cautiously optimistic, because this group of players have proved not that long ago that they can win clutch games when things don’t go south in the first few minutes. So far, Valencia have beaten Barcelona, Chelsea, Ajax and were close to beating Real Madrid in December. They have the quality and mentality to do it.
But my main concern is if their legs will cope with the effort long enough to succeed. Atalanta might be relatively unknown for many people, but they’re a very solid side.
Do you have a favorite memory from any of Valencia’s clashes with Atlético?
Obviously that 1999 Copa del Rey final (3-0), with a spectacular Gaizka Mendieta goal after a “sombrero” inside the box, and the epic third goal scored by Piojo López running away from keeper Molina. That Copa trophy kickstarted possibly the best five-year run in over a century for Valencianistas all around the world.
Your scoreline prediction, please.
I have to keep it real: I’d be OK with a draw and no more injured players for Valencia, so 1-1 might do the trick.