El Centrocampista

Athletic 0-3 Valencia: The Chalkboard – Soldado hat-trick powers impressive away win

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The San Mamés hosted third place Valencia on Sunday with Athletic looking for a home win to keep pace for fourth spot. Each side advanced in the Europa League on Thursday when Athletic defeated Manchester United and Valencia dispatched Dutch side PSV.

Valencia coach Unai Emery went with his preferred 4-2-3-1. Breakout French-Algerian playmaker Sofiane Feghouli played behind Soldado with Pablo Hernandez and Jeremy Mathieu (normally a fullback) on the wings. Daniel Parejo and Mehmet Topal anchored the middle and Barragan, Rami, Dealbert and Jordi Alba were  in defense in front of Guaita.

Athletic Club were coming off a win over Manchester Union but lost last weekend to Osasuna, possibly exhausted after winning at Old Trafford the midweek before. Llorente was rested which really hurt their attack. Susaeta replaced him but was not very effective. Marcelo Bielsa, the master tactician, went with a four man defence since Valencia started with one striker. Bielsa basically played a 4-3-3.

First Half

Valencia began the match hungry to score.  In the sixth minute Soldado was whistled for fouling Javi Martinez just before he buried a 22 yard strike into the top right corner. Replays showed that the call looked quite soft. The home side got into the match around the 15th minute once they started to pass accurately. However, they rarely threatened the away sides goal. Valencia maintained its organization in defense and tracked all of the Athletic movement in the attacking half. Athletic was at their most dangerous when Muniain was on the ball wide and he often found Ander Herrera to link up with. Athletic’s centre backs, Mikel San Jose and Javi Martinez keyed in on Soldado. However, he was often able to win the long balls and then lay it off to Pablo or Feghouli.

The match was being fought to a stalemate in the middle of the pitch after the bright Valencia start. Each side struggled to create against cautious tactics. Neither side applied high pressure but once the attack reached the center circle, they would aggressively try and win the ball back. At times it is hard to pinpoint a specific formation that Bielsa plays, but they essentially played a 4-3-3. Sometimes Athletic had two holding players and other times just one.

In the 33rd minute, Oscar had a chance to strike after cutting in from the left but his effort was tame. One minute later Ander Herrera chipped a ball over the defence for Javi Martinez to cross from the right but Topal blocked Oscar’s shot. A Soldado/Feghouli counter almost found Mathieu streaking into the box from the left side but the pass was poor.

Valencia grabbed the lead in the 41st minute. Mikel San Jose played a soft back pass towards the keeper? band the prowling Soldado swiped the pass rounded Irasos and finished in an open net. Valencia earned the halftime lead after putting in a focused 45 minute shift.

Second Half

Down a goal, Athletic had to adjust tactics and Bielsa made a change. He brought on Ibai Gomez for Iñigo Perez on the right wing and played Muniain on the left. In the 49th, Feghouli and Mathieu worked a one-two in the box but Iraizoz saved Mathieu’s left footed strike towards the far right post.
Athletic found success down the right and threatened three times in a minute. The first was worked down the right Oscar and an inside run found Gomez who returned the ball back but he was shouldered off the ball before shooting. Then a whipped in cross by Ibai Gomez was narrowly missed by Susaeta and slapped away by the keeper Guaita and the rebound attempt from 18 yards by Muniain was blocked by Rami. One minute later down the left Muniain found Herrera who slipped through Iraola but his angle was poor and his shot was pushed away and eventually cleared.

Then, Valencia went direct to add to their lead. Rami bypassed the midfield with a ball to Feghouli who turned inside and played Jordi Alba through. Alba out muscled Javi Maritnez for the ball and laid it back to Soldado who smashed it first time with the outside of his right boot into the bottom right corner. Then Pablo exited for Jonas.

In the 67th minute off a long ball free kick, Jordi Alba ran by Iraola down the left flank and into the box. Iraola trampled the heel of Alba on the edge of the box, earning him a second yellow. In the 70th minute, Muniain went past 3 players on the left side all the way to the touch line and pulled a pass back across the six yard box but it was cleared. In the 74th, Soldado flicked the ball around Mikel San Jose and was through on goal but his shot was saved.

With five minutes left Parejo launched a shot that deflected off the arm of Mike San Jose. The ref carded the Bilbao defender and Soldado completed his hat trick by smashing the penalty into the top corner.

Summary

Two of the top sides in La Liga did not exactly produce a thrilling match. Contributing to this was the referee’s quick whistle. He called a total of 42 fouls and issued 10 cards.

The importance of a lethal striker was apparent in viewing the match. Valencia only created a couple more chances than Athletic but their number nine finished three of them. The only negative for the Los Che was a possible knock to the right ankle picked up by Mehmet Topal towards the end of the match. Athletic Club were very sloppy and it would be easy to conclude that they had a hangover after a huge win over Manchester United.




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