x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Uefa Champions League: Ernesto Valverde is rising to the challenge

Since Ernesto Valverde has taken the helm at Valencia, they have been on a tear in Spain, writes Andy Mitten and now they will meet Paris Saint-German in a Uefa Champions League match.

Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde has dealt with internal problems in a manner which has surprised and won respect. Josep Lago / AFP
Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde has dealt with internal problems in a manner which has surprised and won respect. Josep Lago / AFP

Not for the first time, what happens in Valencia is being overshadowed by events in Madrid.

Football is talking about Real Madrid versus Manchester United on Wednesday, but Valencia's Uefa Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night is equally intriguing and evenly matched.

Unbeaten in their last 17 games against French sides, Valencia have won all eight ties they have played against Ligue 1 opponents, most recently when they beat Lille home and away on the way to finishing second in this season's Group F behind Bayern Munich.

Yet an in-form PSG side overstocked with expensive acquisitions start as slight favourites to progress to the last eight.

Money is a major factor. Valencia are €330 million (Dh1.6 billion) in debt (down from €540m three years ago) and sell their best players, while PSG have been bankrolled by the Qatar Investment Authority.

The pair have never met in competition before, but the Parisians have a respectable record against Spanish sides, with eight wins and three draws from 16 games.

After a poor start to the season, Valencia have found form under their new boss Ernesto Valverde, whose nickname is Txingurri – or "worker ant" in his native Basque. He arrived at a club who were 12th in the table before Mauricio Pellegrino was dismissed after just four months in the job.

Valverde has transformed Valencia, with eight wins, two draws and three defeats – two against Real Madrid.

Valencia were unlucky not to beat Barcelona recently – they nearly did so by attacking the Catalans and pressing them with an intensity which could not last.

Valverde described the Paris match as a "wonderful tie but a very difficult one" because of PSG's "great individuals" such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Javier Pastore and Thiago Silva. The most experienced man in either squad is David Beckham, a January free signing for Carlo Ancelotti's side, but he is not yet match fit.

Valverde expects open games – as all Valencia matches seem to be at present. He is overseeing a club who have risen to fifth after Saturday's last minute win at Celta Vigo. With fourth-placed Malaga banned from playing in Uefa competitions next season, Valencia are already looking good for another Champions League finish.

Valverde has dealt with internal disciplinary problems in a manner which has surprised and won respect.

Ever Banega did not arrive for training recently and a phone call found him in bed at 10.30am, having allegedly been out until the early hours. Valverde's tactic was to make sure he trained that day and not drop him.

The Argentine midfielder has been key to their rise alongside his equally raffish midfield compatriot Tino Costa. They will face Argentines in Pastore and the striker Ezequiel Lavezzi, who has been an adept foil for Ibrahimovic.

Paris have won 11 and drawn one of their last 12 matches and moved six points clear of Lyon in Ligue 1 after Friday's 3-1 victory over Bastia. Lyon were unable to close the gap and lost 3-1 at home to Lille on Sunday for a second successive defeat. It remains to be seen whether Valencia have enough quality or endeavour to end the European ambitions of the nouveau rich Parisians, for this season at least.

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