There is a derby atmosphere in the Valencian air right now, in the city and across the Valencian Community region on Spain’s eastern seaboard. As well as the city derby coming up between Levante UD and Valencia CF in the middle of March, but there’s also a meeting between Valencia CF and Villarreal CF at Mestalla this coming weekend.
This clash comes at a time when the recent trajectories of the two clubs haven’t exactly lined up with their historical records. Villarreal CF may be a relative newcomer in Spain’s top division when considering the entire history of the league, but they’ve become a LaLiga Santander regular over the past two decades and have often competed in European competition, making it to the Europa League time and time again and even into the Champions League. That’s what happened last season as their fifth place finish in 2019/20 earned them their latest European ticket.
Los Che, on the other hand, didn’t qualify for Europe last season. Traditionally, though, they’ve boasted strong squads and currently have talented players who want to climb the LaLiga Santander standings and return to the top spots, the ones that bring national and international prestige. The regional derby against Villarreal CF is always a good opportunity to make such a statement, for the morale that a derby win can bring and for the points that can have a great effect on the standings.
Ironically, few teams know and understand Valencia quite like Unai Emery’s side. As well as the coach himself, there are five players in the current Villarreal CF first-team squad with a past at Valencia. Just this past summer, the Yellow Submarine signed both Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo, the former Valencia CF captain, from their neighbours. They have joined Raúl Albiol, Jaume Costa and Paco Alcácer, who also know what it’s like to call Mestalla home and who experienced some great moments during their time in white. On the other side of the divide, Denis Cheryshev and Gabriel Paulista are currently in the Valencia CF squad but previously wore yellow. Before them, the likes of Roberto Soldado, Carlos Marchena, Víctor Ruiz, Javi Fuego and Andrés Palop all spent time at both these east coast clubs.
From historic ‘germanor’ to a serious rivalry in just a few years
The movement of players has marked the change in the relationship between the two clubs, from one of ‘germanor’ – the Valencian word for brotherhood – to one of increasing rivalry. Villarreal have even started to compete with Valencia in the transfer market. The Jorge López transfer in 2003 marked a before and after, seeing him move to Valencia from Villarreal after the player put pressure on the Yellow Submarine’s directors to authorise the move. Then there was Fabián Ayala, one of the best defenders in Spain in the early 00s, who didn’t renew his Valencia contract so that he could go to Villarreal for free – though he eventually ended up playing for Real Zaragoza instead.
On the pitch, the clashes between the two clubs intensified from 2004 onwards, when Valencia eliminated Villarreal from the UEFA Cup with a goal from Mista. Since then, the sporting rivalry has grown continuously and there was another memorable moment in 2011 when it was Villarreal who knocked their rivals out of a competition, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to send Los Che packing from that year’s Copa del Rey with a 4-2 win. One year later, it was Valencia who sunk Villarreal down to LaLiga SmartBank level with a Jonas Gonçalves goal in a 1-0 win on the penultimate matchday of the 2011/12 season.
After spending just a single season back down at LaLiga SmartBank level, Villarreal have remained in the top division ever since and have enjoyed some memorable results at the home of their rivals. Across 2016 and 2017, Villarreal won three times in a row at Mestalla with Roberto Soldado leading the line for them. The team in yellow have really grown since their last promotion back into the top division and have only once finished below sixth over the past seven seasons. This consistency and strength has made them a reference for football in the Valencian Community and they have truly become a rival that can look Valencia in the eyes.
A derby for the Valencian Community crown
The recent performances of these two institutions contrasts with their history, as Villarreal didn’t enjoy their first top-flight season until 1998. Even though they slipped back out of the top tier on two occasions since then, their leadership stuck to their plan each time and they achieved bounce-back promotions. That has allowed them to keep dreaming of European football. Even though their city has a population of just 50,000 – around half of whom could fit in their 23,500-capacity Estadio de la Cerámica, the tallest building in the city – this team managed to reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2005/06 and were a penalty away from the chance to go to the final.
Valencia, conversely, have been one of the classic clubs of Spanish football’s top division and are one of just nine teams to have crowned themselves champions of LaLiga Santander, while they haven’t suffered a relegation since 1985. Although they won the Copa del Rey title as recently as in 2019, they haven’t enjoyed the solidity and consistency of their regional rivals in recent years. Despite the different histories of these two clubs, the balance in this derby is much more even than their respective trophy cabinets would suggest. This regional rivalry match has, therefore, become one of the hottest fixtures around in recent years, one that stands out for all football fans.
Watch Valencia CF vs Villarreal CF live this Saturday at 4am on beIN Sports.