Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Valencia
Valencia are 6/5 favourites with Coral to come top Champions League Group H, which also contains Gent, Lyon and Zenit St Petersburg, now Los Che are back on the biggest stage in club football.
Domestic league: La Liga
How they qualified: Finishing fourth in Spain last term, the Bats sealed their Champions League return by beating Monaco in the play-off round.
Best Champions League era performance: Valencia were runners-up in successive seasons after the turn of the century in 1999/2000 and 2000/01, losing handsomely to Real Madrid and then Bayern Munich on penalties.
Coach: The rather saintly named Nuno Espirito Santo was seen as a left-field choice of gaffer when appointed last term, but has already done much to put the Bats back on the football map.
Now assisted by Phil Neville, the Portuguese boss was notably Jose Mourinho’s reserve goalie when he steered Porto to UEFA Cup and subsequent glory in Europe’s elite club competition.
Nuno was also backup keeper for his country behind Ricardo at Euro 2008 and, upon retiring in 2010, thereafter took up coaching posts under Jesualdo Ferreira at Malaga and Panathinaikos before striking out on his own with Rio Ave.
Ins and outs: Bankrolled by Singapore businessman Peter Lim, Los Che have spent well over €100m to celebrate their return to Europe’s top table. Permanent transfers for previously on-loan quartet Joao Cancelo, Andre Gomes, Rodrigo Moreno (all from Benfica) and Alvaro Negredo were followed up by moves for talented teenage attackers Zakaria Bakkali and Santi Mina.
Star defender Nicolas Otamendi is the only notable departure to Manchester City, but Valencia have also plugged that gap by bringing in Aymen Abdennour from Monaco. Australia goalie Mathew Ryan’s arrival covers the injury to number one Diego Alves.
Familiar faces: Former Man City striker Negredo and ex-Bolton Wanderers loanee Rodrigo will ring bells with Premier League fans, but both need to score more goals with just 10 between them last term. Skipper Dani Parejo spent time at QPR as a youngster.
Key players: With his fellow Spain internationals not netting as much as they are capable of, the Bats’ goal-burden has fallen on Mestalla academy ace Paco Alcacer. Having just turned 22, his best years are still ahead of him, but 14 strikes in successive seasons show Paco packs a real punch.
Algeria international Sofiane Feghouli, meanwhile, was important in Los Che’s last two European campaigns, scoring three times apiece in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and so, from advanced midfield areas, his goals and guile are essential in support of Paco.
Ones to watch: Diminutive Belgian winger Bakkali announced himself aged 17 at PSV Eindhoven by becoming the youngest ever player to hit an Eredivisie hat-trick. Valencia have thus acquired a real raw talent that is well worth keeping an eye on.
Forward Mina, meanwhile, scored a four-goal haul for Celta Vigo in their 6-1 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano last term, and those exploits resulted in him moving from the provincial La Liga side to the Mestalla.
Emerging talent: Next off Los Che’s seemingly endless production line of lucrative left backs is Jose Luis Gaya. Following in the footsteps of predecessors Jordi Alba (Barcelona) and Juan Bernat (Bayern Munich), he can put pressure on his compatriots ahead of Euro 2016 if he continues to perform well.
CL group and fixtures: Group H
v Zenit (home), September 16th
v Lyon (away), September 29th
v Gent (home), October 20th
v Gent (away), November 4th
v Zenit (away), November 24th
v Lyon (home), December 9th