Valencia travelled to Genk for a first-ever meeting with their Belgian hosts in optimum spirits having kicked off their Primera Liga campaign with two victories from as many games. Traditionally Valencia are also strong starters in the UEFA Champions League; kicking off their campaign last season with a 4-0 victory over Bursaspor before eventually qualifying for the competition's last 16 behind Manchester United. It is then with some disappointment they will view a goalless stalemate in Genk that will not live long in the memory. Valencia only ever hinted at the type of performance that has guided them to third place in each of the past two seasons in Spain, with coach Unai Emery left to reflect what might have been had he not made such sweeping changes to the side which beat Atletico Madrid at the weekend.
Given Genk's relative paucity of pedigree in competition at this level Emery elected to make significant changes to the side which has made such an impressive start in La Liga. Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Alves was afforded a debut in goal but otherwise Emery elected to keep as a unit his first choice back four. In midfield he tested the full depth of his squad in starting Ever Banega, Daniel Parejo, Sofiane Feghouli and Mehmet Topal - none of whom played at the weekend. The side which starts against Chelsea is likely to be radically altered again but a similar formation will be employed. Star striker Roberto Soldado was a willing target all evening but lacked quality service. He was primarily supported by the floating twin Argentine schemers Banega and Pablo Piatti. In this respect Valenica employ a typically European system, with Soldado used at the focal point of their attack. In truth Valencia only flirted with the idea of living up to their pre-match billing as strong favourites, with none of their players willing/capable of dominating a game that desperately needed someone to take it by the scruff of the neck.
It is regularly said the world's best coaches often didn't enjoy the most illustrious playing careers and Emery is definitely more Jose Mourinho than Pep Guardiola in this respect. Forced to retire at 32 after spending the vast majority of his career in the lower leagues, Emery has enjoyed considerably more success in the dugout. Having achieved promotion with both Lorca and Almeria he caught the eye of Valencia, whom he has led to third place in both 2009/10 and 2010/11 upon succeeding Ronald Koeman. Emery is regarded at 39 as being one of the brightest young coaches on the continent but for the moment is convinced he can achieve all his ambitions at Los Che. "I have the dream of winning the Champions League," he said in his pre-match press conference. "Valencia give me that possibility. Our goal is to go step by step and the dream is to win the Champions League someday."
Given five changes were made to the side which started against Atletico it's difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Chelsea are likely to play what Emery perceives to be his best XI, meaning several of those employed in Genk will not start against Andre Villas-Boas' side. Piatta is an obvious threat, particularly when he is able to stretch his legs down the left flank. His movement was sharp in looking to get in behind Soldado and Chelsea could find it difficult to pick him up, given the current side lack the type of mopping up protection provided by a Claude Makelele figure. Banega also has ability and is willing to drop deep and take possession in tight areas. Diminutive in stature and with a low centre of gravity, he is another who could pose questions for Chelsea. Again though, like Piatta, he faded in the second half. Star man Soldado provides a clever presence up front and his record leading up to the Genk clash - a remarkable 17 goals in his last 12 games - suggests he will pose more than the odd problem for John Terry and co. Although ring-rust was clearly evident amongst a number of their players there was on occasion fluidity to Valencia's play that allows their midfielders to interchange positions freely. As one would expect from a Spanish side from 1 to 11 Valencia's players are comfortable in possession.
What was a strength against Genk could prove to be a weakness against Chelsea. Jeremy Mathieu played almost as an auxiliary left winger at times and while his incessant forward forwards posed the Belgian outfit problems, better opposition would likely punish the holes he left in behind. Genk threatened to do just that on occasions but lacked the necessary guile to pick the right pass. On the opposite side of the pitch Miguel was twice exposed for having a lack of pace, with the likes of Florent Malouda likely to have a field day if given opportunity to attack him. Going off their performance on Tuesday night there could also be an overreliance on their captain for goals. Valencia have plenty of naturally talented footballers but it's difficult to envisage any rivalling Soldado in the goalscoring stakes. Given they have lost so many of their key men in recent years it is perhaps no surprise a side shorn of most of their first choice midfield appeared to lack any real leaders - although this should be rectified by the return of David Albelda and Pablo Hernandez in subsequent games.
There is no doubt goal machine and captain Roberto Soldado is the club's key man. Everything is played through a player who has scored four goals in La Liga already and it will not be long before he registers in Europe. Piatta looks an astute signing on Emery's part and could pose problems throughout Valencia's European campaign if given licence to roam by his manager. Their back four is well marshalled by Adil Rami but whether it'll be good enough to keep out Europe's most potent strikeforces remains very much open to conjecture.
As previously stated it is difficult to judge Valencia conclusively given Emery made so many changes but on this showing they're unlikely to trouble Europe's top dogs this season. Although they've clearly got some gifted footballers in their ranks their back four is far from water tight - despite the clean sheet kept in Genk - while it's difficult to see who would score regularly at this level should Soldado pick up an injury. They should have enough to progress to the next round at the expense of Bayer Leverkusen but Chelsea will likely be good enough to claim top spot from Group E.