Valencia assemble Spain strikeforce of tomorrow?
An all-Madrid Champions League final, Atletico’s La Liga title win and a trophy-less season for Barcelona last term dominated dispatches for Spain. What may have escaped the casual observer’s notice were the struggled endured by Valencia.
Finishing eighth, and ultimately well short of European football for this season, has resulted in much diminished status for Los Che. Coral make them massive 250/1 outsiders to win Spain’s top-flight for the first time since 2004.
Managerial changes aplenty have happened over the last 12 months at the Mestalla, but Singapore businessman Peter Lim’s takeover in May gives supporters some hope of restoring former glories. His appointment of one-time Porto reserve goalkeeper Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach, up-and-coming after a spell at Rio Ave, could pay dividends if the owner is patient.
One of the first priorities was to fix a leaky defence that let in 53 goals last term (only two sides in the top 10 conceded more). Argentina international Nicolas Otamendi’s arrival at Valencia, via a loan spell with Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro, should go some way to fixing that.
Attack is the other area in need of work. Nuno’s plan looks to be pairing highly-rated youngsters Paco Alcacer, Los Che’s top scorer last term with 14, and Benfica loanee Rodrigo Moreno up front. The latter netted 18 goals as the Lisbon giants did a domestic treble.
Aged 20 and 23 respectively, Alcacer and Moreno have established reputations for being prolific for Spain’s youth teams in recent years. At the World Cup in Brazil, a lack of dynamism and synergy with the tiki-taka style from Brazilian-born Diego Costa up front meant La Roja’s defence of the global crown crumbled in the group stage.
If this Paco-Rodrigo pairing can produce at a club that has a rich recent history of showcasing attacking talent – read David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata among others – then there’s plenty to be excited about.
Going forward, La Roja must revolutionise their frontline. Villa has retired from internationals, while Fernando Torres looks a spent force at that level. Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado lack consistency, joining Fernando Llorente, a Serie A winner with Juventus last term, in being ignored by Vicente del Bosque for his final Brazil roster.
Spanish eggs are not all in one basket with the Paco-Rodrigo partnership, however. Alvaro Morata’s progress at Juve, alongside big Basque target man Llorente, will be watched with interest following a £15m move from Real Madrid and once he recovers from injury. Exciting Bernabeu attacker Jese Rodriguez will also be returning from a knee problem this year.
Michu, meanwhile, played the ‘false nine’ often favoured by La Roja boss Del Bosque at Euro 2012 when at Swansea, and could be deployed in similar fashion by Rafa Benitez during a loan spell at Napoli. Cristian Tello and Bojan Krkic have both left Barcelona in search of first-team football, so Spanish eyes will make occasional glances to Porto, where the former is joined by Adrian Lopez, and Stoke City respectively.
Basque hotbed Athletic Bilbao still have hold of Iker Muniain, so it will be fascinating to see how many of these forwards in their early 20s will get their chance in a senior La Roja shirt over the next two to four years. Spain are 5/1 shots to win Euro 2016, and 15/2 chances to reclaim the global crown by sealing glory at the Russia-hosted World Cup in 2018.