El Centrocampista

ADVANTAGE VALENCIA – Pablo Hernandez oozes class as Los Che too much for Levante

GETTY Images/Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

As is always the case in Spain, the monster that is El Clásico engulfed everything in its path this week.

The Spanish press, already fixated on the big two, flung open its doors this morning even more Barcelona/Real Madrid obsessed than usual.

Such was the dominance of the good and bad (mostly bad) side of last night’s fixture in the headlines, hordes of readers must have been oblivious to the incredible derby unfolding tonight in Valencia.

It’s a pity, too, because for 70 minutes or so, Valencia and Levante put on an intriguing and finely balanced display that was as engaging, if not more so than the battle of the Bernabéu 24 hours prior.

Valencia ended the tie 4-1 victors, and deservedly so, but don’t let the score line fool you into a straightforward analysis.  For brief but nonetheless repeated spells, unforced errors by Los Che, as well as a change in tactics from their neighbours meant that Levante could and indeed, should have reduced the deficit by at least a goal.

The first half was all about Valencia doing what Valencia do best: using their width, pace and quality midfielders to feed Roberto Soldado, who gleefully pulled Levante’s backline this way and that.

The process was made all the more easy for Los Che when Levante chose to sit deep in a by now customary manner, allowing Valencia all the space in the world to cause damage, something they achieved in a typically short time.

When Valencia are at their peak, the speed at which they effectively use the flanks is as good as anyone in La Liga if not the world. The first half was a perfect example of this, with Jordi Alba frequently finding himself storming through into the final third with ample time to deliver a killer ball.

Alba wasn’t the star though. Instead, it was all about Pablo Hernandez.

It’s easy to forget that at one time, Pablo was talked up as the next David Silva or Juan Mata. Yet upon the departure of the two big Davids from La Mestalla, Pablo seems to have been forgotten by those on the outside looking in to the Iberian Peninsula.

His qualities have remained in tact however, and the way in which he played between the lines, found space and passed the ball tonight was a reminder of why he can be such an important player.

It was Pablo’s intelligence that lead to the first goal, with Jonas finishing off the move.  The second came not long after, again via Pablo, and finished off by who else but Roberto Solado. The hit-man had been working furiously in the opening minutes, but his second came in the form of a classic poacher’s goal.

It was yet another reminder to Vicente Del Bosque of the kind of quality he has waiting for a call-up, should he feel the need to find another striker in David Villa’s absence.

The second goal seemed to wake Levante up, who finally realised that allowing Valencia all they space they should desire was a dangerous and fruitless tactic.

With a clear change in approach, the visitors instead opted to press, taking Valencia by surprise.  As a result the home team were left wanting for numbers at the back, and Kone hammered home a rifle of a shot to give Levante a vital away goal.

It would have been vital anyway, had Levante not went on to concede yet another soon after. In a common sense defying moment of madness they dropped their pressing game yet again. Los Che, spurred on by a passionate home crowd, gladly accepted the gift.

Pablo was involved yet again, and picked up his third assist of the night on the stroke of half time, this time providing for Piatti. It was a wicked psychological blow to the visitors, who only moments prior thought they were back in the game.

Instead, they headed down the tunnel with their tails between their legs. Except of course Sergio Ballesteros, who let’s face it, can’t fit anything between them.

All joking aside, it seemed unusually slack from a Levante side that have proven to be so astute this season.

When the second half commenced, Valencia picked up where they left off: quick, incisive and with killer instinct. Yet it all came to an end on the 67th minute.  Pablo Hernandez would have liked to recall tonight for his man of the match performance, yet it will be an injury picked up after a seemingly harmless jog that will stay in his mind.

It was a cruel blow for the young midfielder, who had produced one of his best performances of the season. The nature of the injury is not yet confirmed, but it looks like a muscle problem. Not good news for Valencia, nor the player.

Fortunately for Valencia however, they had a more than able replacement in Feghouli. Upon his introduction, Emery switched the system to a 4-3-3, and the football continued to flow. Tino Costa and Ever Banega were both majestic, and seemed determined not to let Pablo’s hard work go to waste.

Yet ample chances were in fact wasted, and Valencia really should have had two or three more.  Los Che had a let off soon after, with the pendulum swinging in Levante’s favour courtesy of a slack back pass. Kone latched on to the loose ball, but his timid cross was calmly met by Diego Alves. Levante will rue the missed opportunity in a game that had few for the visitors.

It was all but a formality thereafter, though there was still time for Valencia to inflict a final blow.

Feghouli crossed the ball to the edge of the area, which upon landing at Tino Costa’s feet, was struck with pure venom. A wicked deflection caused the shot to loop into the net, with the whistle blowing seconds later.

Valencia looked good for their four goals, but they would have looked even better with the seven or so they deserved. Nonetheless, it looks unlikely that Levante will be able to recover the deficit in the return leg, especially if los Che turn up in this kind of mood.

It’s worth remembering that Levante have a great, over-achieving starting 11, but a thing squad. Perhaps an exit from the Copa, though never something you would wish (particularly at the hands of city rivals) would be a blessing in disguise for the expendables. Things don’t look likely to go any other way in any case.

Perhaps the only glimmer of hope for Levante will come from those that wont play the return leg rather than those that will. With three of the four Valencia goals coming from Pablo’s genius, Levante may be praying for his absence if they’re to have any chance of recovery.

GETTY Images/Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

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