Manchester United meet Spanish giants Valencia in their next Champions League match this Wednesday in what is surely going to be their toughest opponent in Group C.
Valencia are probably sick of the term “third best”. Founded in 1919, Los Che are the third most supported club in Spain, behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They are also the third most successful club in terms of La Liga titles and third most successful team in continental titles. The Estadio Mestalla club have been in the shadow of Madrid and Barca for many years, as they battle to win their first league title since 2003/04. They haven’t won the Champions League since 2001; a fact that the club will be looking to change this season.
Valencia have always been a dominating force in football. With six league titles, seven Copa del Rey victories and nine European trophies in all, Unai Emery’s side certainly have pedigree.
The club, though, has endured some tough seasons in the past few years. After finishing tenth in La Liga thanks to Voro, who took over from Ronaldo Koeman in April 2008 after the Dutchman suffered a torrid time with the club, in 2007/08, the team finished sixth and then third in the next two seasons, and currently sit top of La Liga after five games, one point ahead Barcelona.
Valencia’s fine start comes as something of a shock after the club sold their prized asset, David Villa, to the Catalan side in the summer. Another key player, David Silva, also left the club in the summer joining the mega-bucks side of Manchester City. Emery used the €60 million-plus on players such as Mehmet Topal, Roberto Soldado, and Ricardo Costa, all of whom have had strong starts to the new season. Soldado and Topal scored at the weekend in a 2-0 win over Sporting Gijon.
The Valencia side of 2010 may not be well known by English fans as they haven’t succeeded in Europe for six years, when they won the UEFA Cup under Rafael Benitez. Manuel Fernandes, who has played for Everton and Portsmouth before establishing himself in the heart of the Valencia midfield.
David Albelda, Joaquin and Miguel were all left out of the side at the weekend to ensure that they were fit for the encounter of United this week, but it is Juan Manuel Mata who is sure to cause United the most problems. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, who have struggled in all three of their away games this season, have a problem at right-back, with John O’Shea the most frequently used by Fergie in the past few weeks.
Mata’s pace and intelligence could showcase United’s weakness, while his goal scoring ability will be of great advantage against the Red Devils, who have conceded seven goals in their last three Premier League games away from Old Trafford.
United should have Rio Ferdinand back after the English defender missed the weekend game against Bolton. He will partner Nemanja Vidic in defence which means that Roberto Soldado could have a tough game. Valencia, though, will have been boosted by the news that troubled United forward, Wayne Rooney, will miss the trip to Spain because of an ankle injury.
Valencia: Cesar; Miguel, Navarro, Costa, Alba; Joaquin, Albelda, Topal, Mata; Soldado, Zubeldia.
Man United: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Park; Berbatov, Hernandez.