Arsenal and Chelsea have made pretty smooth progress in the Europa League up until this point and the bookies reckon the trophy is heading for London at the end of this season. However in the last four both sides are set for real tests with Valencia in particular plotting their path to European silverware not to mention a backdoor into the Champions League next season.
Los Che are only 6th in La Liga and the odds are against them finishing in the top four now after a surprise defeat to Eibar at the weekend. However they have still made large strides forwards since the turn of the year and have made excellent progress in the cups to ensure this is a season that could end in glory. A positive result at the Emirates on Thursday night will certainly get fans of Los Che dreaming of a repeat of 2004 when they won the UEFA Cup under Rafa Benitez.
A Season of two Halves
It has been a real season of two halves for Valencia. The first half of the campaign was a real struggle as they found goals very hard to come by with Los Che the lowest scorers in the Spanish top flight for much of the opening few months. They found it tough to convert one point into three too, winning just 3 of their opening 16 league games but drawing a staggering 10 times.
That really piled the pressure on boss Marcelino with strong rumours that he was on the brink of the sack around Christmas time. Valencia’s Champions League campaign also failed to get off the ground with just 2 points from their opening 3 matches in a tough group which included Juventus and Manchester United. They did ultimately take 4 points off the Red Devils but it wasn’t enough to prevent Valencia dropping into the Europa League.
Since the turn of the year though, things have really turned around for Valencia. Michy Batshuayi’s season long loan was cut short in January and their other forwards have at least started to find a bit of form since with Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo improving as the season has gone on. They’ve also managed to get key man Goncalo Guedes back to fitness and the speedy winger who cost in the region of £35 million last summer has been in inspired form of late.
Valencia went 17 competitive games without defeat between January and April as they climbed into European contention in La Liga whilst making excellent progress in both the Copa del Rey and the Europa League. They are still battling on 3 fronts heading into May with a cup final against Barcelona still to come whilst they are battling with Sevilla and Getafe for 4th place in La Liga.
Emery hoping for more Euro joy against former club
There is plenty of history between Unai Emery and Valencia, not least at this stage of this competition. After an unremarkable playing career, he really made his name as a coach in a four year stint at the Mestalla between 2008 and 2012. Valencia finished 3rd in La Liga in each of his final three seasons and his best European campaign came in his final year at the club with Valencia defeated by Atletico Madrid in the Europa League Semi-Finals.
Emery left on pretty amicable terms with the respect of the Valencia fans mostly intact. However the next time Los Che appeared in a European Semi-Final, Emery was in the opposing dug-out. The year was 2014 and Valencia were knocked out by Sevilla on away goals despite winning the 2nd Leg 3-1 at the Mestalla. Emery’s over-exuberant celebrations angered the fans who once chanted his name and Valencia supporters are hungry for revenge as they once again line up against an Emery side in the Europa League Semi-Finals over the next week.
Europa League Winner Betting Odds
The bookies currently make Chelsea the favourites to win the Europa League at a best-priced 6/4 with bet365. That’s partly due to them having on paper the easier Semi-Final draw against outsiders Eintracht Frankfurt who can be backed at 6/1 to win the trophy with Betvictor.
The other Semi-Final is a tougher one to call, particularly with 2nd Leg set to be played out in front of what is sure to be a hostile atmosphere at the Mestalla. Arsenal are the slight favourites to progress and can be backed at 5/2 with bet365 to win the trophy. Valencia though are certainly a danger and are available at 7/2 with bet365 to be crowned Europa League winners this season.
Are Valencia good enough to see off the Premier League clubs?
Arsenal’s tie with Valencia is in some respects the most intriguing of all the European Semi-Finals in that nobody seems certain of what the outcome will be. Valencia have developed a very effective counter-attacking style that has really served them well on the road since the tun of the year. Although defensive qualities have been the foundations of their success under Marcelino, they have been a real threat on the break away from home even against the stronger Spanish sides.
Since the turn of the year, they’ve scored twice at both Camp Nou and the Wanda Metropolitano and also won games away against both Seville clubs. They also produced some blistering counter-attacking football to kill off the tie in the 1st Leg of their Europa League Quarter-Final away to Villarreal with a 3-1 win. Certainly there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are capable of scoring a vital away goal at the Emirates which would make the 2nd Leg in Spain very interesting indeed.
Valencia will feel they are good enough to defy the odds and beat either Arsenal or Chelsea on their day. However they don’t have the strength in depth of the English clubs which could be a decisive factor with the Spaniards having already played 30 competitive games in 2019 with a further 7 to come this month should they reach the Europa League Final. They have ground to make up in the race for 4th in La Liga and really need to win all of their remaining three league games. However there is certainly a risk they could end up going in hard for all three competitions and ending up with precious little to show for their efforts.