Valencia drop points but ensure European qualification
It proved to be a weekend of mixed emotions for Valencia as they made the trip to San Mamés at the weekend, a draw with Athletic Bilbao seeing them secure qualification for Europe next season, but also allowing their title rivals a chance to gain some ground on their advantage coming into the game. Once again, having played midweek, Valencia were forced to switch things round with players beginning to tire from the constant stream of fixtures. There was still no return for Kevin Gameiro, although he is back in first team training now, but the league leaders had Yunus Musah available again after suspension. He was brought back into the starting line-up, along with Mangala, and both wide men Jason and Denis Cheryshev, with Daniel Wass, Uros Racic, Nicolás De La Cruz and Maxi Gómez dropping to the bench, fatigue the main reason for several of those changes. The hosts were without Ander Capa following his red card against Barcelona in the week, but other than that were at full strength for the encounter.
It took until the 15th minute to see the first action of this match, a tight affair in which neither team had even forced a chance to that point, and it came for the visitors who took the lead with a delightful strike. A throw-in on the right from Jason was knocked back to him by the returning Yunus Musah, who then dropped into space to take the ball back and unleash an unstoppable strike from 25 yards out into the top corner, Unai Simón even at full stretch unable to get his hand to the sensational strike from the teenage midfielder.
5 minutes before the break, hosts Bilbao hit back with something of a wonder strike themselves. Breaking down the right, first Diakhaby and then Mangala looked to clear the danger as the hosts looked to put the ball into the danger area. The second clearance fell to Mikel Vesga just outside the area, and the midfielder took a touch before firing home, placing one superbly in the bottom corner beyond the outstretched reach of Jasper Cillessen in the Valencia goal.
The home side almost grabbed a second to complete a quick turnaround just 2 minutes later, the ball breaking to Iker Muniain who spotted Cillessen coming off his line, producing a deft chip which beat the former Barcelona keeper but clipped the top of the crossbar and over, much to the relief of the visitors.
The second half proved to be just as cagey as the first, with chances again limited for both sides. With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors forged an opportunity to edge back in front, Cheryshev picking up the ball inside his own half before freeing Goncala Guedes in space down the left hand side. The Portuguese international, although playing as a striker, drew on his wide man experience as he broke down the left before whipping in a fantastic ball. Strike partner Joshua Zirkzee got up above his man in the middle, but couldn’t keep his header down, and the chance was gone.
Bilbao should then have taken the lead 7 minutes later as they wasted a massive chance. With Valencia pressing, a speculative long punt forward found Iñigo Córdoba clean through on goal, and despite a great first touch to bring the ball under control, the 24 year old attacker then dragged his effort wide under pressure from Cillessen, although there is no doubting the academy graduate should have done better with the chance.
As the game entered the final throws, winger Jason picked up a knock but with no remaining substitutes he was left to see out the game, and the visitors had one last opportunity in the final minute to try and seal the win. A deep free kick from the left was swung into the box by De La Cruz, and with centre half Mouctar Diakhaby getting above everyone to power his header towards goal, many thought the visitors had nicked the win, only for a superb display of athleticism by Unai Simón to ensure his side claimed a point.
The draw means Valencia find themselves 7 clear, with Madrid still to play while for the hosts a point sees them 2 ahead of Atlético Madrid in the final Champions’ League spot, although the side from the capital are also still to play this weekend, and also have another game in hand on the side from the Basque country.Share this: