Valencia make most of opportunities in first leg, top Monaco in playoff
Without ever lookijng particularly sharp, Valencia made the most of its opportunities to hand Monaco a 3-1 first leg defeat in their UEFA Champions League playoff Wednesday night, a margin that might prove sufficient for them to safely negotiate the return leg in France next Tuesday.
The French side, who reached the quarterfinals a year ago, will wonder how they let a positive result slip away on a night when a young Valencia side seemed there for the taking, but when they review the match they will be forced to confront their own defensive frailties at key moments.
Rodrigo gave Valencia a fourth-minute lead, but the Spaniards failed to build on that fast start so it was no surprise when Mario Pasalic got Monaco even early in the second half. Then it was Monaco's turn to lose the script, captain Daniel Parejo providing Valencia their match-winner just before the hour before Sofiane Feghouli thrust home the potential dagger five minutes from time.
Neither side looked themselves much of the night, Valencia scrappy and often searching for attacking fluency. Monaco based its run to last season's quarterfinal spot on a sound defense and tight midfield defense which limited opponents to few chances but that formula deserted them fatefully Wednesday night.
The defensive coherence was completely missing when Rodrigo had the freedom of the Estadi de Mestalla to put Valencia ahead so early, central defenders failing to react to a cross from Parejo. The ball went through to the far post where Feghouli, one of three attackers in position to score, nodded the ball back across the face of goal to the wide-open Rodrigo. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was helpless to do anything about it.
After that, although Subasic had to one-hand a cross away from the onrushing Paco Alcacer in the 20th minute, Monaco was the better, more confident side against a team playing its first competitive match of the season.
Bernardo Silva saw goalkeeper Matt Ryan touch his shot onto the far, left post in the 33rd minute while Anthony Martial was just marginally offside when he managed to put his own rebound into the net in the 40th so Monaco trailed at the break.
It took Monaco only four minutes to finally get level once the second half began. Martial again was the man to shred the Valencia defense with a powerful run to the left byline. His cross into the danger area could only be touched by a sliding Ruben Vezo and the ball went directly to Pasalic, the attacker on loan from Chelsea. He spotted the chance and buried it before another defender could react.
Monaco did not look to be in trouble when a long cross from the right from Antonio Barragan arrived at the far post with the French defense switched off to open the door for the decisive goal.
Pablo Piatti had space to deflty control with his left foot, directing his pass into Parejo's path for the first-time strike that took a slight deflection off defender Wallace on the way past Subasic in the 59th minute.
It was hardly smooth sailing to port for Valencia as Monaco kept coming at them. Ryan's reaction save, a one-handed scoop away from Pasalic, in the 70th minute was his second major save of the night and kept his side on top in the battle for a group stage spot,
Feghouli then buried his 85th minute chance, running onto a weakly headed clearance from a corner on the right that allowed Shkodran Mustafi to glide the ball into the scorer's path for the blistering finish. That was likely more than their energetic Portuguese boss, Nuno Espirito Santos, would have been expecting with an hour remaining in the match.