It’s official: Valencia have a new tactician in the dugout. Former Watford boss Javi Gracia’s arrival has been rubber-stamped after weeks of speculation.
While the Spaniard is far from the luminaries of world football, he has proven his mettle in the Premier League and LaLiga, where he led Malaga to successive top-half finishes from 2014 to 2016. So, what can Los Che expect from the Pamplona-born coach?
As defence was one of Valencia’s biggest downfalls last season, Gracia needs to plug a leaky backline that shipped 53 league goals. Fans can expect an improvement with his defensive know-how – his Malaga team conceded only 35 goals in the 2015/16 season.
Armed with flexible tactics, the 50-year-old can also diversify the Bats’ staid formation. In his first season with Malaga, Gracia took four points off a Barcelona side led by Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez by using different formations in both games to nullify Messi’s threat.
The former Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad defensive midfielder also masterminded a win against Atletico Madrid and snatched two draws against Real Madrid in the next campaign. His adaptability will be a much-needed boost for a Valencia team bereft of ideas when playing away from home.
And with an inevitable clear out this summer, his talent in building teams that do not rely on individual stars will be crucial. Tight purse strings at Malaga did not hamper him. Instead, Gracia focused on youth – a cornerstone of Valencia’s philosophy – and finished a respectable 9th and 8th in his two seasons there.
At Watford, he created a solid spine with stalwart Ben Foster in goal, the reliable Craig Cathcart in defence, powerful duo Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue in midfield, and bulldozing captain Troy Deeney up front.
Complemented by the flair of Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu, Gracia’s Hornets reached the FA Cup final in 2019 and ended the season with 50 points – their highest total in the top flight in 32 years.
However, he was sacked after earning one point in four games the following season – a move decried as “absolute madness” by ESPN experts.
Now with higher-calibre players like Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler and Goncalo Guedes at his disposal, Gracia is a clever choice to lead Valencia into a new era.