Real Valladolid – Valencia: Errors From Valladolid Gift Valencia Deserved Champions League Qualification (0-2)

Two errors in buildup by Real Valladolid unblocked the way for Valencia, who started patiently and got rewarded even before having to switch gears or take more risks. With a comfortable lead, there was only one way this game could end and oddly enough, both teams celebrated after the final whistle.

Tactical analysis and match report by Sérgio Sampaio.

This was a game with more at stake for Valencia than for Valladolid. For the hosts, this was a time to get the supporters together and celebrate a successful season, having secured another year at the top of the Spanish pyramid. On top of that, it was a chance to say goodbye to Borja Fernández, who is hanging his boots at the age of 38. The Galician has played for Valladolid in seven seasons, in three different spells, playing a total of 218 games for the club and playing an important role in two campaigns that ended with promotion to LaLiga.

Valencia, however, were fighting for a crucial goal: qualification for next season’s Champions League. Other than the obvious prestige associated with it, the difference between achieving that qualification and missing out is very significant on a financial level for a club like Valencia, so the amount of pressure here cannot be understated.

Valencia did have their fate in their own hands coming into this matchday, but only a win could guarantee they kept the fourth position. A draw or even a loss could also be enough, depending on what Getafe and Sevilla made of their respective games. Getafe hosted Villarreal, another team with nothing to play for, while Sevilla faced Athletic Club who still had aspirations of qualifying for Europe. The stage was set for a good ol’ final matchday with supporters in different stadiums across Spain keeping one eye on the pitch and another on their phones, or at home impatiently refreshing their live ticker webpages hoping for good news.

Valladolid could hardly have had a more relaxed run up to the game. With their objectives met, Sergio González gave his players several days off and they only returned to work on Thursday to prepare this game. He also took the opportunity to give some lesser used players a start, including Borja. In total, nine changes were made from the starting eleven that beat Rayo in the previous game, Kiko Olivas and Rubén Alcaraz being the only survivors while Sergi Guardiola and Nacho Martínez were not even included in the match squad.

Valencia manager Marcelino made only two changes to the team that came victorious against Alavés. Mouctar Diakhaby replaced Ezequiel Garay, who joined Denis Cheryshev in the list of injured players, and Cristiano Piccini was dropped in favor of Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman partnered Daniel Parejo in midfield while Daniel Wass was moved to the right back position.

Two 4-4-2’s in cagey start

The two teams started in medium-to-high block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. A medium-high block is well… in between these two variants. 4-4-2 shapes that initially fit one another and allowed for easy balance in the defensive phase for both teams, which led to a cagey and boring start. Marcelino’s side seemed to start intentionally patient to try and feel out Valladolid before asserting their style. The first ten minutes were full of individual duels and long balls, and only the home team managed any shots.

Lineups and Valencia’s movements in possession against Valladolid’s 4-4-2 defensive shape.

Valencia looked to create superiority on the flanks and / or halfspaces, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. then look for the ball in behind. Rodrigo and Santi Mina would alternate to drop between the lines in the halfspace as the winger drifted inside and the fullback came forward creating a three-against-two superiority. Should the Valladolid midfielder on that side move to compensate, the superiority would transfer to the center and eventually to the opposite wing. All the while, the man on the ball would be alert to the possibility of feeding a striker in behind.

This worked somewhat differently on each wing. On the left Guedes seemed to have freedom to decide where to go and look for space to receive the ball and Gayá adjusted either overlapping or underlapping accordingly. On the right Carlos Soler did a more utilitarian job, seeing less of the ball but deciding well every time he had it and moving intelligently to free Wass down the wing. Guedes, in contrast, was the focal point of Valencia’s attack, but had an uninspired day illustrated by his 66% pass success.

Without the creativity of Míchel, Valladolid’s system was more direct and reliant on the front four’s improvisation with Toni Villa and Keko playing more traditional winger roles making their offensive shape look like a 4-2-4. With plenty of width, there were lots of switches of play that Valencia dealt with easily shifting their two lines of four from side to side.

Valladolid’s gifts end the stalemate

With Valencia showing a certain nervousness and being imprecise in their actions, it was Valladolid, who looked better in the period between minute fifteen and thirty. Now keeping the ball a bit longer and with Simone Verde often drifting wide and switching positions with Keko, they created some problems for Valencia. The 0-0 reflected well what was going on on the pitch, but it looked like Valencia had a tough task ahead of them against a Valladolid side playing without pressure. And Getafe were leading since the 14th minute, leaving Valencia outside of the Champions League spots.

In the 36th minute, however, Valencia were gifted a goal. After one of Valencia’s attacks fell through, they immediately counterpressed. Valladolid played out of it beautifully, getting the ball to Keko with options on the right. Oddly, he opted to pass backwards to Alcaraz, Mina moved quickly to pressure him, Alcaraz passed to Kiko Olivas who in turn was pressured by Rodrigo. A lack of awareness and bad control allowed Rodrigo to steal the ball and cut back to Mina who attracted all the panicking defenders and served Soler for the opening goal. As good as Valencia’s pressing was, Valladolid had actually beaten it and ended up losing the ball in a promising position a few moments later when the situation was far less dangerous.

If you’re Valencia – one of the best teams in the league defensively but that has struggled for goals for large parts of the season despite good underlying offensive numbers – you could be worried with the first half hour, but suddenly the mood had changed. The game fell into another period with little happening, except this time this very much suited Valencia. The situation improved further just before half time when the news from Coliseum were that Getafe had conceded an equalizer.

Perhaps because of that news, Valencia seemed more confident in the second half, and even more confident they became when Valladolid gifted them another goal in the 52nd minute. In a Valladolid goal kick, Valencia kept their strikers high and near the home center-backs. Alcaraz looked free centrally near the edge of the middle third, Yoel passed to him and the trap was on. As the ball travelled Parejo immediately ran to pressure, Alcaraz had a poor control and lost the ball and, facing the keeper, Parejo passed to the side for Rodrigo to tap the ball into the open net. It was nothing particularly sophisticated as far as pressing traps go, but Valladolid’s casualness and lack of preparation proved to be their downfall.

With a two goal lead, Valencia confidently controlled the game and the rest of the second half was of little interest. The main highlight came in the 84th minute, as Borja received his hommage in a substitution that took almost two minutes, as the whole Valladolid team came to the middle circle to salute him and the crowd and Ronaldo gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. He shall remain in the club in other functions.


Valencia won a game that looked very tough at times, but ultimately Valladolid’s relaxed preparation made things easier. For the most suspicious, this shouldn’t be misinterpreted as Valladolid handing Valencia the win on purpose, they tried their best and even hit the woodwork at 0-0. But if you are going to face a better team that prepared this game all week and you only had two training sessions and select players more to reward them than anything else, you’re just not going to be at your best. Not that that’s any of Valladolid’s concern, they had achieved their goal and this was a celebration.

Valencia also end up celebrating, achieving their main goal for the season, the Champions League qualification, and still have the Copa del Rey final to look forward too. It is a deserved happy ending for a team that largely underperformed their underlying numbers and for Marcelino who was criticized and put under pressure for factors that were largely beyond his control.

Plots will be added to this article as soon as possible. 

Sérgio Sampaio (30) is an amateur football analyst and author of the blog Segundo Volante ( You can find him watching, and perhaps writing about, all kinds of football: more likely to watch an Europa League qualifier in the summer than friendlies, only to then complain about the quality of the game. He abandons reason when it comes to believing FC Famalicão will play European football in his lifetime. [ View all posts ]


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