Valencia move up in La Liga table with win over Villarreal

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Valencia, Jan 27 (IANS) Valencia continued their charge up the La Liga standings with a 3-0 victory over Villarreal, who are heading in the opposite direction and will need to improve their play to avoid relegation.

The Bats’ on Saturday first score at Mestalla Stadium came courtesy of the video assistant referee (VAR) system, reports Efe news.

The referee had initially ruled that the hosts were offside on a play in which Mouctar Diakhaby headed a free kick by Dani Parejo into the back of the net, but although the position of several Valencia players appeared questionable VAR allowed the goal to stand.

Valencia then focused on defense for much of the first half, ceding possession but not allowing Villarreal to execute a pass through their well-organised back line or connect on any crosses from the wings.

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Although the hosts were unfortunate not to extend their lead late in the first half on an outstanding strike by Parejo that clanked off the left post, the second goal came just six minutes after the intermission.

An aggressive high press set up the play, with Denis Cheryshev stealing the ball from a Villarreal player before getting the ball back and slotting a left-footed shot inside the far post.

Valencia stepped up their aggressiveness after the second score, not only looking to counter-attack but also taking control of possession and seeking out ways to break down Villarreal’s defence.

Villarreal head coach Luis Garcia tried to beef up his team’s attack by inserting Samuel Chukwueze, Carlos Bacca and Gerard Moreno but the visitors were unable to seize the initiative from the host side.

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Although visiting goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo’s solid play kept Valencia’s advantage at two until late in the contest, Rodrigo’s bouncing header off a long pass in the 86th minute finally put the game out of reach.

In remarks to reporters afterward, Garcia did not mince words about the current state of his club.

“I’m utterly disappointed, and everything I’m saying here we just talked about in the locker room. Either we get our damn act together once and for all, or it’s really going to cost us. The teams that are in our position don’t play like that. We have to convince ourselves that we’re a bottom-rung team,” the coach said, referring to the lack of urgency shown by his men.

With the win, Valencia are provisionally seventh in the La Liga table with 29 points and close to cracking the top six; four teams will book berths in the 2019-2020 Champions League group stage at season’s end, while two other clubs will secure berths in Europe’s secondary club competition, the Europa League.

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The Bats were in 15th place in early December.

Villarreal are second-to-last with just 18 points and currently in the three-team relegation zone.

The Yellow Submarine have not been relegated since the 2011-2012 La Liga season and have finished in the top six in the Spanish league for the past five seasons.

–IANS

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