Building up to Palace’s clash with La Liga ex-champions Valencia, we spoke to the Daily Mirror’s European Football Correspondent Ed Malyon about his thoughts on what the Eagles will be up against when they face the Spanish side at Selhurst Park.
Given their recent form in La Liga, can Valencia still be deemed a ‘big’ club?
Palace are playing one of the biggest clubs in Spain, they’re probably now the fourth biggest because Atletico Madrid have overtaken them in how many times they’ve won La Liga and they’re also now a bigger side in terms of money, but Valencia have got a huge and very demanding fan base, and during Gary Neville’s reign we saw the problems with the fans, they expect a lot and when the team doesn’t meet those expectations things get nasty very quickly. However, it’s a great club with an incredible stadium, one of the best stadiums in Spain, it is really atmospheric, a city that loves football, and it’s a very good club and will be a great game for Palace to play and a good team to test themselves against.
How important will it be to Valencia to perform well?
Pako Ayestarán (the Valencia manager) still has a lot to prove, he won the job on the eight game stretch that he had at the end last year and they still weren’t convinced they were going to give him the full-time job. He has a lot to prove still to the Peter Lim (the owner) who is a very rich man and a billionaire. Ayestarán main focus is going to be to put in a good performance and to look good.
Which team do you think will come out on top?
The La Liga schedule starts a week after the Premier League so Valencia are going to be a week behind Palace in pre-season, and you’d expect Palace to essentially be favourites for this game. However this is still Valencia we’re talking about who historically over the last 10 to 20 years have been in Champions League finals, have won La Liga, while Palace have been in the second tier of English football. So we’re looking at one team on the way up and one team slightly on the way down and it’ll be an interesting meeting from that perspective.
Which players should Palace be wary of?
Valencia are going through a bit of a remodelling of the squad this summer, they’ve just sold Rodrigo de Paul to Udinese who is an Argentinian winger, Álvaro Negredo has joined Middlesbrough on loan and Pablo Piatti has joined Espanyol, but they’ve still got some good players. They’ve got a very tricky winger called Zakaria Bakkali, they’ve got Santi Mina who is a teenage forward and seems to always pop up in the big games and score good goals, Paco Alcácer who was the centre forward for Spain and was surprisingly left out having been their top scorer in Euro 2016 qualifying, he’s only 22 years-old and is the sort of player that Palace might look at in the future. Shkodran Mustafi is a centre back who won the World Cup with Germany and is a terrific player - Barcelona and Manchester City have been looking at him in recent weeks.
If you could compare Valencia to a team in the Premier League who would it be?
In terms of historical standing, this game for Palace is playing against a team like Tottenham, but in terms of current ability it might be compared to them playing Southampton or Everton because of the style they play.
Can we expect to see many Spanish supporters at Selhurst Park?
The Spanish fans as a rule don’t really travel, it’s one of the quirks of Spanish football that you don’t tend to see many away fans. The club that has the biggest away following is Malaga which is mainly because their fanbase is made up of English, German and Scandinavian expat fans which carry that tradition with them, and go around the country supporting the club. But for Valencia fans, even for short trips playing Levante or Villarreal which are local derbies, they won’t to make many fans. So I expect a handful at most and they’re probably going to be mainly Spaniards that are based in London.
Where will Valencia be hoping to finish this season?
They’re going to recover a lot this season, they haven’t qualified for Europe which was a massive failure for them but the most important thing is it gives them a lot of free time. Gary Neville and Nuno the manager before him complained of having a game every three days and it was hard to get anything going. But this year Ayestarán has got one game a week in the league (and however long the Copa del Rey lasts) and we’ll definitely see them bouncing back, I think they’ll be a top eight team in La Liga with the sort of players they’ve got.
Palace take on Valencia at home on Saturday 6th August in what will be the last game before the start of the 2016/17 Premier League season.
Prior to kick-off at 3pm, there will be entertainment and activities for younger fans in our Fan Zone as well as competitions and free giveaways.