Hassan Chamas

For 18 teams, any hopes of winning the La Liga title are over, for this season at least. With a mammoth number of points separating co-runners Real Madrid and Barcelona, the rest of the league will have to battle for Champions League and Europa League qualifying berths.

Having spent a colossal €350M combined, La Liga's two biggest clubs made sure that the league was a two horse race from the start, leaving their opponents the crumbs. With both sides still trading punches at the top of the table, the Spanish top flight is nothing short of a thrilling boxing match this year.

Yet, to discard La Liga's other teams as rubbish would be a little too much. Sevilla host admirable talent, playing host to Jesus Navas – one of the world's most underrated players -, Diego Capel, Alvaro Negredo and Andres Palop amongst others. Valencia too are a giant of note.

Undoubtedly a serious player in La Liga as the noughties dawned, Los Che's position and standing as one of Spain's elite has declined, especially as football became less about talent and more about Euros. Despite regressing however, Valencia continue to boast considerable strength with a well-assembled squad comprising developing stars David Silva, Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez, Ever Banega and, of course, established international star, Euro 2008 top man, David Villa.

Reinforcements Needed

Even though Valencia have an appealing starting line-up, their substitutes do not come close when called upon or needed: The prospect of a Villa-led cohort of Silva, Mata, Hernandez and Banega is one to savour, and as La Liga's third best attacking side the numbers say it all for a team that is a joy to watch going forward.

But, in truth little lies beyond the strong core. Vicente Rodriguez, the 28-year-old winger, has had an injury plagued career, Manuel Fernandez, the Portuguese midfielder, has failed to cement a place in the team, and up front Nikola Zigic, the giant Serb, comes nowhere close to the level of David Villa. In the case of Villa especially, Valencia need to be able to call upon someone who can fill El Guaje's boots whenever necessary, all the more so since the Spain star is continually linked with Europe's best.

The Mestalla faithful have much hope placed in Alejandro Dominguez, the 28-year-old Argentine striker signed from Russian champions Rubin Kazan. So far Dominguez has not shone, but in truth he has not been given much chance in the wake of Valencia's effective attacking system, and it remains to be seen whether the Lanus-born striker will be a Los Che hit.

At the back Valencia's defence appears to be good enough. La Liga's third best, Los Che's back four are having a decent campaign, despite embarking on a red-card frenzy: Hedwiges Maduro, David Navarro and club captain Carlos Marchena all received their marching orders not too long ago.

Despite some bright spots, what the Merengots need are players behind the first eleven, capable of filling in for injured and banned stars. In their encounters with Barcelona and Real Madrid this season, Unai Emery's team have been a tough nut to crack for the runaway leaders: Valencia held the Blaugrana to a frustrating draw at the Mestalla and looked to be the better side in the rematch at the Camp Nou, before the supernatural being that is Lionel Messi turned things around, while against Real Madrid, Los Blancos had to find the comeback days of Fabio Capello to take all three points at the Mestalla, finishing as 3-2 winners.

The solution to Valencia's inability to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid will need to be more than just a few signed cheques: money at the Mestalla seems to be a scarce commodity these days.

Got Cash?

One thing that has rocked the club in recent years has been its ever increasing debt pile, with kinder figures quoted revolving around the €500M mark. Add to the bill the €300M worth New Mestalla stadium, and their levels are heading through the roof to say the least.

Valencia first thought of selling the current Mestalla stadium as a way to clear out their huge debt. A series of blunders however, and poor management on the part of Juan Soler and Vicente Soriano – the club's president and vice-president at one point – meant that the ground had lost all its potential buyers.

Having slipped into financial disaster, players stopped being paid and the New Mestalla construction halted. Ever since, selling players has been seen as the sole answer to combating the club's growing debt burden, with the latest painful transaction being the sale of Raul Albiol to Real Madrid, a man long considered to be one of the team's future faces.

At 28 years old David Villa is at his peak, and a sale in the coming summer transfer window would be the most lucrative deal ever for Los Che, especially should he guide Spain to World Cup glory in South Africa. But Villa may only cover the club's expenses, and as such the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva may also be up for auction, with supposed interest from Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid: the big spenders of world football.

Despite having enjoyed a La Liga campaign only third to Barcelona and Real Madrid, the worst may yet be to come for the 2004 UEFA Cup winners. With money needed to keep the very blood flowing through their veins, the dreaded prospect of selling their top players may soon turn into a reality. It seems Valencia may have to truly self-destruct before they can be born again.


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