Mestalla is on Rubén Baraja’s boat. The fans have found in Pipo the last burning nail to which they can hold on to escape a critical situation that could even end in relegation. Valencianism feels identified with the speech of a footballer who knows better than anyone what it is to defend the colors of Valencia and trusts that he knows how to transmit to the players the necessary strength to resume flight.
This Saturday against Osasuna the ‘new Valencia’ has a golden opportunity to lay the foundations for a change of course. Starting the Baraja era with two consecutive victories at the Mestalla would be a major morale injection that would raise the confidence of the footballerson the one hand, and it would make the squad-fan link stronger, on the other.
It is not an easy challenge. Only six coaches in the 21st century have managed to debut in the Valencian fiefdom with two victories in the first two games: Rafa Benítez, Claudio Ranieri, Emery, Nuno, Pako Ayestarán and Bordalás (Voro also did it in an interim capacity when he first had to take charge of the team in 2008.) Taking into account the volume of technicians that Valencia has had in recent years due to the ups and downs of Meriton, it is not a high number.
More than 20 years ago, when the reality of Valencia was completely different, Rafa Benítez took office and in his three years on the bench at Mestalla he managed to place the team on the map of the best teams in Europe. His beginnings in 2001, with two consecutive victories at the Mestalla, served as a precedent for what came later: a historic double.
Claudio Ranieri also achieved it, but in his second stage in Valencia, that of the year 2004. Villarreal and Real Sociedad were the victims of a league start that promised a lot. It was also achieved by Unai Emery, who continues to be the coach with the most games directed at Valencia since the year 2000.
Three cases in the ‘Meriton era’
Only three managers out of 10 who have led Valencia in the Meriton era have achieved two victories in their first two meetings at Mestalla. And not all of those cases were indicative of success. Nuno was Peter Lim’s bet when he landed in the city and his beginnings were not bad. The victories against Málaga and Espanyol unleashed euphoria at the Mestalla. The season concluded with the qualification to Champions of the team. However, the end of Nuno’s project would come at the first turn of his second season.
Pako Ayestarán took over the reins of the team in 2016 after the dismissal of Gary Neville. His beginnings couldn’t have been better: three victories in four games, two of them at Mestalla. However, the San Sebastián coach linked seven consecutive defeats between the end of the 2015/2016 season and the start of the 2016/17 season and was quickly struck down.
The last case is more recent. Bordalás started on the right foot at Mestalla: two victories against Getafe and Alavés. In the league, the team finally failed to achieve a European place and the highlight of the previous season was the Copa del Rey final. The man from Alicante had options to continue in office but Lim had other plans and signed Gennaro Gattuso.
Thus, Rubén Baraja, this Saturday against Osasuna, will try to emulate these six coaches and start at Mestalla with six points out of six possible. And most importantly, he will try to ensure that the path follows the paths of coaches like Rafa Benítez, who wrote his name in the Valencia history book.
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