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La Liga: At Valencia, Soldado finally feels at home

The Valencia-born striker has made an impression at several clubs, but at the Mestalla he is now pushing for a place in the national team.

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Soldado has been on fire for Valencia lately.

Coming through the ranks of the cantera, his 86th minute winner in his debut season against Olympiakos at the Santiago Bernabéu not only spared the blushes of the home side but also gave fans a glimpse of a potentially great Real Madrid striker.

Labelled the “new Raúl” like so many before him, he did for a time adopt the famous number nine shirt at Madrid, but success for Roberto Soldado has come most recently at the Mestalla and the city of his birth, Valencia.

Following a successful loan spell at Osasuna in 2006 while still a Madrid player – where he finished as the Navarra club’s top scorer – he returned to the Spanish capital still hoping to leave his mark on Los Merengues. However, with the Brazilian Ronaldo Nazario, club legend Raúl and later Ruud Van Nistelrooy, all ahead of him in the pecking order, it proved too tough a task.

He moved across town in 2008 to city rivals Getafe and again impressed in his two seasons there, scoring 16 league goals in his final season before arriving at Valencia in June 2010 as a replacement for Barcelona-bound David Villa.

Undaunted by the big boots left to fill, 2011 was to prove a great year for the 26-year-old, who racked up 32 goals in 47 games for Los Che, of which 24 were netted in La Liga. His terrific form has not gone unnoticed and the striker has been linked with Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich in recent months, amidst growing calls for his inclusion in the Spanish national side.

Finally at home however, he is content: “I won’t leave Valencia. I’m with the team I want to be with. The truth is that in all the previous clubs I was treated wonderfully, but my greatest footballing moments have come here.”

His ambitions for La Roja no doubt play a part. Facing fierce competition behind the likes of Villa and Fernando Torres – despite the former’s recent injury and the latter’s poor run of form – as well as Fernando Llorente and Álvaro Negredo, he is aware that it is only recently that he has proved he has what it takes.

“Those that are there now are champions of the world as well as Europe. It is only now in the last year I’m at a level where I am scoring goals on a regular basis,” he told Sky Sports.

“A consistent goal return is what I need to show Vicente del Bosque in order to merit a place within the squad. Hopefully, the opportunity will arise for me,” he added.

Whether Valencia will be able to resist an offer for him remains to be seen but so far, he is proving crucial to the club. Forced to watch from the stands this weekend, having accumulated five yellow cards, third-placed Valencia missed the opportunity to move within a point of Barcelona after being upset 1-0 at home by Real Sociedad.

The Basque side, who were just above the relegation zone, broke the deadlock on 56 minutes with an Antoine Griezmann strike and Valencia failed to find a reply.

Meanwhile, Sevilla have now gone four games without a league win as Espanyol held them to a 0-0 draw at the Sánchez Pizjuán.

Atlético joy

Diego Simeone finally gave Los Rojiblancos something to cheer about as he secured his first win as Atlético Madrid coach with a dominant win over a poor Villarreal 3-0 on Sunday. Radamel Falcao broke the deadlock five minutes before half-time after great work from Adrián López.

Atletico’s second came just after the break, as the Colombian was brought down by Gonzalo Rodríguez and Falcao put away the penalty.

The home side missed numerous good opportunities in the final quarter but Villarreal offered nothing in response and Diego finally added a third, side-footing past Diego López 10 minutes from time.

Barely a month since they last met, El Clásico has returned, sooner than perhaps José  Mourinho would have liked, as the top two meet in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals first leg on Wednesday.

So far, Mourinho has gained the upper hand over Barça only once in his time as Madrid coach, and maybe it is a good omen for him that this lone victory came in the cup final last year.

The reigning Copa del Rey champions will be defending their crown and in contrast to the clash in December, when both sides came into the game in top form, since their return from the winter break both have struggled.

This weekend saw the Catalan side forced to work hard for a 4-2 home win over Real Betis while José Callejón grabbed a late winner for Madrid as they fought back from a goal down to defeat Real Mallorca 2-1.

If added motivation was needed, Barça now trail the league leaders by five points and with recent history in mind, they may edge the tie but Los Blancos have had their pride hurt time and time again lately by their eternal rivals and it may be time to hit back.

Mourinho gets his chance at Barça again but it is not going to be the last time this season.

 

RESULTS:

FC Barcelona 4 – 2 Real Betis

Sporting Gijón 2 – 1 Málaga CF

Athletic Bilbao 3 – 0 Levante UD

Osasuna 0 – 2 Racing Santander

Atlético Madrid 3 – 0 Villarreal CF

Valencia CF 0 – 1 Real Sociedad

RCD Mallorca 1 – 2 Real Madrid

Granada CF 1 – 2 Rayo Vallecano

Sevilla FC 0 – 0 RCD Espanyol

Real Zaragoza 1 – 1 Getafe CF





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