Ten-man Valencia opened their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Girona to ensure Gennaro Gattuso became the eighth of Valencia’s last ten managers to avoid a league defeat in their first game in charge.
After a disappointing campaign in which they finished in ninth place, Valencia once again decided it was time for a change of approach and replaced José Bordalás with Gattuso – their seventh manager in just five years. This appeared to have the desired effect as the hosts came out of the blocks with the same menacing intent that was typical of the Italian legend throughout his playing days.
Girona would not be intimidated during the frantic early stages, however, and even threatened to shock the home crowd when Juanpe’s header flashed across goal. In a melting Mestalla, there was a shining light for the hosts in the form of 19-year-old Yunus Musah, who looked composed in the midfield role that Gattuso appears to favour for him. With the sprightly US international building the attacks, Valencia were able to grab a goal in the closing seconds of the first half after Valery Fernández was penalised for a handball. Subsequently, Carlos Soler dispatched a penalty for the second consecutive LaLiga opening matchday.
Míchel’s men continued to look capable but lacked the required precision to trouble the hosts despite the feistiness of their approach. Their aggression appeared to anger Valencia, however, and the visitors were handed a lifeline when Eray Cömert was dismissed for a reckless challenge. Gattuso was next to go into the book as he looked to fire up his side during a ragged start to the second period.
The visitors brought on their all-time top LaLiga scorer Cristhian Stuani in search of an equaliser but, despite dominating the ball for large periods, they were unable to test Giorgi Mamardashvili. As the FT whistle approached, Valencia were intelligent in possession and slowed the contest enough to ensure celebrations on Spain’s eastern coast.
After a troubling summer, which has seen several players depart, Valencia will be more than satisfied to get three points on the board immediately. Bad news for Girona, though, as their losing away run, the club’s longest such streak in the Spanish top flight, was extended to six matches.