Madrid poised to make things worse for Valencia

Posted by Rob Train

It's Christmas lottery time in Spain. El Gordo, as it is known, is one of the world's biggest and a tenth of one ticket sets punters back a cool 20 euros. Prohibitive, perhaps, in the throes of the worst economic meltdown since the Spanish Civil War, but with prizes to match. Therefore, everybody buys one. Somebody has to win, after all.

I'm guessing the only people who don't work in Valencia's handkerchief sector. They've already won the lottery, over and over again. Fans at Mestalla are among the most fickle in Spain and the traditional way to air their grievances involves reaching for their pockets and waving the unsavoury fabric at whichever unfortunate is currently in charge of Spain's biggest institutional basket case.

Even when things are going reasonably well, the wall of white is swift in judgement. Unai Emery was the recipient on many occasions: his crime? Finishing third regularly and ensuring Champions League football for the cash-strapped club.

How Valencia fans must miss the dossier-obsessed Sevilla coach now.

-Ronaldo, Ramos fitness boosts

Miroslav Djukic was sacked this week. A European Commission probe into possible illegal state financing was launched against seven Liga clubs, including Real and Barcelona, but there is little in it in truth. Except in Valencia's case, mainly: the club was essentially bailed out through a loan from the regional government guaranteed by Bankia, which in turn had been bailed out by Europe. It's basically a case of "mi casa es tu casa" -- the taxpayers are Valencia's biggest shareholder, whether they like it or not.

The amount is some 70 million euros, which, if the EC investigation bears fruit, may have to be returned immediately, and in full. Meanwhile, the club has been put up for sale, for 250 million euros, a few pennies more than current outstanding debt. Interest has been weak, to say the least.

All in all, it hasn't been a very good week for the Mestalla club. But as Sergio Canales noted: "We're suffering too much on the pitch to worry about the future."

Handy, then, that his former side Real Madrid is rolling into town on Sunday with pretty much its full armoury at Carlo Ancelotti's disposal, pending a late fitness test on Gareth Bale. Sergio Ramos' first caution against Osasuna last weekend has been rescinded and he will be available to partner Nacho in central defence. If Ramos' suspension had stood, the canterano would have been Real's only senior centre half on the squad list. Valencia really can't catch a break.

Last season, this fixture ended 5-0 to Real, with Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing two goals each. The Portuguese will certainly start as he resumes his tussle with Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa for the league's top scorer's trophy, and with the Hispano-Brazilian at home to Levante, Ronaldo will be out of the blocks quickly. Real's tactic in recent weeks has been to assault the opposition goal in the opening few minutes, seeking an early strike to knock the wind out of the opponent's sails. The problem for Valencia is that there hasn't been enough wind to get around a duck pond.

Last weekend in the Vicente Calderon, Valencia held on for the first half but was torn apart in the second. As soon at Atletico opened the scoring Valencia collectively collapsed, eventually conceding three goals and two penalties.

Ancelotti can also call on Luka Modric, who sat out the midweek King's Cup encounter, to partner Xabi Alonso in midfield. In the absence of Sami Khedira, this has become the Italian's first-choice pairing: Alonso provides the cover that Modric, try as he might, cannot. The Croatian has the legs to get forward and back and the ability to go past a player, which Alonso does not. It might be largely accidental, but it is very effective.

Farther upfield, Isco has made the playmaker role his own again after a series of encouraging displays, culminating in something of a recital against Olimpic midweek, who although a third-tier side defended like a Primera outfit. Valencia snuck past Gimnastic de Tarragona in the same competition Thursday with a single goal in Nico Estevez's first game in charge.

It was reported on Friday that former Valencia, Barcelona and Spain striker Juan Antonio Pizzi had handed in his notice at San Lorenzo, where he had just won Argentina's Apertura, to take charge at Valencia. He may well provide the stability and drive the club so desperately needs. The handkerchiefs will be the ultimate judge and jury.

In the meantime, Estevez has to formulate a plan to stop a team that has scored 19 goals in their last five league matches. El Gordo may well land in Valencia this year. But there won't be much to celebrate at 11 p.m. on Sunday night in Mestalla.

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