Barcelona or Real Madrid? The two superpowers of La Liga were the exclusive members of title race debate heading into 2010/11.
Barça seized a record 99 points from a possible 114 last term, while Los Merengues had the destination of the trophy in question until the final day, ultimately falling three points short. A staggering 25 points separated the runners-up from third-placed Valencia, whose chances of finishing any closer were severely receded by the close-season departures of FIFA World Cup™ winners Carlos Marchena, David Silva and David Villa - and by the fact the latter relocated to Camp Nou, and that Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria made the Bernabeu their new office.
Critics confidently predicted an even more monotonous two-team marathon for gold. However, the team that shocked the masses by emerging as champions in 1971, 2002 and 2002 – they also won three league crowns in the 1940s - are threatening to cause an upset of abundantly greater proportion. Valencia, indeed, head into the international break at the summit of La Liga, having taken 16 points from a possible 18 – two more than Real Madrid and three better than Barcelona.
And according to Vicente, who rose from the bench to score what proved to be a stoppage-time winner at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, Los Che are genuinely capable of ending the six-season monopoly of the big two.
“It’s early days but it’s important to start well,” said the 29-year-old winger, who joined Valencia from Levante in 2000. “We must take things step by step, but the team is playing well, looking convincing and winning games. Right now the sky is the limit. If we continue like this we will be able to think about fighting for the league.”
The benefit of a break
While 25-year-old winger Pablo Hernandez and uncapped striker Artiz Aduriz, 29, were surprise inclusions in Vicente Del Bosque’s party for the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Lithuania and Scotland, the majority of the Valencia players will benefit from a fortnight’s rest before they visit Barcelona, whose squad is virtually exclusive to internationals.
Vicente reckons this will work in the Mestalla side’s favour: "Now we can recharge the batteries.”
On a personal note, the 38-time capped former Spain player is eager to force his way into Unai Emery’s Valencia starting XI. “I have to keep working for the team and when the coach sees fit, I will play,” he said. “I'm here to help and do the best I can.”