José Bordalás is not a very well-liked person for Barcelona fans. Since his days at Getafe, the 57-year-old has infuriated everyone associated with the Blaugrana almost every time he has faced them, and now he is coming back to Camp Nou with Valencia on Sunday. The stadium will be full, and the fans will be ready to go after him.
But do not let the hate blind you to this fact: José Bordalás is a damn good football coach, one who is bringing hope to a Valencia side that was in desperate need of a new leader as the club looks to transition from financial hell into contender status once again.
Valencia had a brilliant start to the season with three wins in their first four games, but they’re now in the middle of a four-game winless streak which came as soon as the schedule got tougher. There is very little depth in the squad and their best players struggled with injury, which has contributed to the bad results, and some of it is bad luck, but Los Che will come to Camp Nou looking not only for a positive performance, but three points.
And they are capable of doing so. Three weeks ago they came very close to beating Real Madrid at Mestalla, surrendering a one-goal lead in the dying seconds, but came out of that game encouraged by an excellent performance against the league leaders. And that performance had everything you’d expect from a Bordalás side.
Let’s start with their shape. Like he did at Getafe, Bordalás plays a 4-4-2 with Valencia with a compact structure that narrows the pitch and defends mostly in a mid-block, with the second line of four closing spaces in the middle and always looking for an opportunity to steal the ball.
They don’t want the opposition’s midfield to be comfortable on the ball, so their two central mids, Hugo Guillamón and Daniel Wass, are absolute pests who close the opponents hard to force either a backwards pass or a long ball. The two wide midfielders, who ideally would be Hugo Duro on the left and Carlos Soler on the right, have the tough task of helping Guillamón and Wass to close the space in the middle while also being ready to defend wide if the ball goes to the wings.
The midfield is really the crucial piece of this Valencia team without the ball: the back four takes very few risks and the two full-backs are told to press the opponent’s wingers hard when they get the ball, but it’s the midfield’s job to stop the supply line and provide as little space and time as possible to the other team.
But what Valencia are really good at, just like Getafe under Bordalás, is high pressing. They are not a Gegenpressingn machine who are constantly on the center-backs tails; they pick their spots (the main job is always to protect the back four), but it’s an absolute nightmare for the opposition when they do decide to mark higher up the pitch.
They always press on goal-kicks, and they use a man-to-man scheme to condense the space and force the opposition to either go long or make a bad pass. And when they do decide to hunt the ball, they are decisive with it: although Valencia have won the third-fewest tackles in the league through eight games, they are FIFTH in tackles won in the final third, per FBref. They are one of seven teams to have scored a goal coming directly from pressing, which shows how effective they are with it.
As mentioned before, Valencia pick their spots. They rank in the bottom five in the league in both pressures attempted and pressure success, but they are seventh in interceptions and fourth in clearances. They want to close the space and make life uncomfortable, but they won’t take unnecessary risks.
That is why, through 8 games, they are tied for second with Atlético Madrid in Expected Goals Allowed. Part of it is the schedule and facing mostly bad attacking teams, but there is clear improvement on a team that ranked third-worst in xGA last season. The only true vulnerability of their defensive structure so far has been set pieces, as Los Che are tied for third in shots allowed from dead ball situations.
Offensively, Bordalás also likes to mix things up. Valencia have had games where they sat back and played it long but others where they dominated possession and created good chances, and they have a clear structure of how they want to attack under the new manager.
They almost always play their goal-kicks short, with the ball usually finding the talented left foot of Omar Alderete. When he receives the ball, the center-back has a choice based on what he sees.
Valencia always line up in a 4-1-3-2 in their goal-kicks, with Guillamón providing a short option and Wass moving up to the middle of the pitch to create a numbers advantage for the second ball if Alderete goes long.
If Alderete does choose the short option to Guillamón, Valencia build patiently from the back until the ball passes the halfway line, when they quickly move into their pet attacking shape: a 4-2-4.
The two wide midfielders move inside, and Valencia have a legit front four in a narrow position to occupy the opposition’s entire backline. Both full-backs push up to offer width, and the two central midfielders then decide whether to play it through the lines to the front four or find the full-backs for a crossing opportunity.
They are not exactly chance-creation monsters, ranking only 10th in the league in total shots and 11th in xG excluding penalties, but they are super efficient: sixth in shots on target per 90 and fifth in goals per shot, per FBref. They are also excellent in set pieces: third in the league in shots created from dead ball situations.
There is plenty of room for attacking improvement and their defense will be tested by better teams, but the mess of last season is no longer there. José Bordalás has made a tremendous impact in a short period of time, and the Valencia side coming to Camp Nou has all the tools to not only frustrate a vulnerable Barça team, but leave Catalonia with the sweet taste of an upset victory.