Well we’ve (more or less) made it through the first half of the season. And we should be very proud of what this team has achieved already. We have completed the best first half of a season ever in our team’s history and still even have the game with Real Madrid as a possible bonus. We are still in Europa. And although we had a poor match away at Espanyol, we still have an opportunity to make the semi-finals of the Copa. Perhaps most importantly, we are sitting in the fourth and final champions league position in the table.
But all that this hard work in the first half has done is set us up with even more work to be done in the second. Our challenges will only get harder as we reach later stages of Europa and CdR. And with Valencia’s absence from both of those tournaments and exclusive focus on La Liga, competition for CL spots is going to be beyond fierce.
Honestly, I’m still angry about our first game of the season. We had a man and a goal advantage and somehow we blew the game at home in the RSP. Those lost points truly still could be the difference between CL next season and Europa again. But we have a chance for redemption and I’m looking forward to it. I would be fully satisfied with a tie that preserves our margin over Valencia, a win… Well, maybe that’s getting greedy.
Valencia have been focusing on us for a full week. Old friend Alvaro promises that he won’t celebrate if he scores (how thoughtful). They will be well rested and focused and have a huge crowd of rabid fans.
For us, we’ll have to see if we can justify the heavy lineup rotations that Emery implemented during midweek. Most of our key starters should be fresh and will also have no excuse. I’m excited. I’m nervous. This game is going to be intense and important.
Will this game necessarily and singularly dictate whether or not we make the CL? Probably not. But it almost undoubtedly will be a large factor in doing so.
Here’s the team:
Beto, Sergio Rico, Coke, Diogo, Fernando Navarro, Carriço, Nico Pareja, Arribas, Krychowiak, Iborra, Aleix Vidal, Banega, Vitolo, Denis Suárez, Deulofeu, Iago Aspas, Gameiro and Carlos Bacca