Why Estadio Mestalla could be heaven, not hell, for Rangers

If you were one of those immensely irritating ‘look on the bright side’, ‘glass is half full’ weirdo, optimistic types, then you would probably interpret the Valencia players being booed and jeered by the home fans during Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Zaragoza as a positive sign.

You would no doubt argue that it is an indication of the new found financial stability at the club that the notoriously fickle supporters are so comfortable that Valencia are no longer on the brink of bankruptcy that they can return to their most favourite past-time: complaining and calling for the trainer to be burned at the stake.

“Valencia is a football city that is anti-managers,” notes a local pundit, a view supported by Juan Mata who pointed out as diplomatically as he possibly could that  “it’s hard playing in Mestalla, it’s a tense atmosphere.”

It’s a hostile atmosphere for the home team that will surely offer an advantage to the Rangers players on Tuesday night, players with a fine chance of pulling off a first ever win in Spain for the Scottish side in European competition. The reasons for the locals being particularly revolting of late has been a dreadful run of results for Valencia that has landed with the biggest of thumps after a particularly perky start to the season.

Unai Emery’s men began the campaign with five wins from six in the league along with a 4-0 thrashing of Bursaspor. But in the middle of October, Valencia lost out to Barcelona in the Camp Nou and have stumbled at home by losing to Mallorca and only managing a draw against struggling - and ten man - Zaragoza.

The problem is that the average Mestalla fan is not exactly the most supportive of souls when the footballing chips are down, and the last thing the Valencia players need is another game at home - especially a clash against a fairly feisty Rangers side that should have given them a hefty beating in Ibrox a fortnight ago.

Rangers train at the Mestalla ahead of tonight's match

A pessimistic Marca suggests “Valencia are playing in their own hell”, although Mata has issued a hopeful, on-his-knees plea that the home fans “will support us to the end like the Rangers supporters did in Scotland.”

For this to happen, the Valencia players are going to have to buck their ideas up on the pitch and play with a little more effort, or ‘ganas’ as the Spanish would say. The last two league games against Mallorca and Zaragoza saw desperately laboured, flat performances from Valencia with the side falling behind in both encounters and struggling to get back into the game.

“Our confidence is low,” admitted a shellshocked Emery on Saturday when being bombarded by questions on what has caused his team to become so timid.

Part of the problem for Emery is that he doesn’t appear to know his favoured starting eleven or even his first choice formation. Valencia have constantly switched from 4-4-2, to 4-3-2-1, to 4-2...er...something else, with players in and out of the side and being moved about like chess pieces.

Juan Mata has appeared as a left midfielder, second striker and front man, whilst there is no clear first choice central midfield pairing. However, for Tuesday’s night clash, Marca is predicting a 4-4-2 with some old Valencia warhorses such as David Albeda and Joaquín in the line-up.

Before the clash, the winger revealed what it can be like playing in Mestalla when the supporters are not in the best of moods. “When the public boo you, the ball burns your feet,”explained the former Spanish international.

It’s a season-defining game for Valencia, despite it only being the beginning of November. A defeat would make it an uphill struggle to qualify from their group, with Rangers then holding a four point advantage and a trip to Old Trafford on the cards. However, the real issue would be the fickle fans being on the backs of the players for the rest of the season.

Rangers need to take advantage of this most rarified of atmospheres. Should the Scottish side score first, then the evening could go very badly indeed for the Valencia men in Mestalla, but very well for the visitors.

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