Valencia find themselves at the start of a new cycle following a month of rapid and somewhat unexpected change during which manager Marcelino was sacked due to disagreements with the club's owner, Peter Lim.
A clash regarding transfers and overall strategy moving forward between manager and board prompted the latter to relieve Marcelino of his duties, despite the 54-year-old's huge popularity among the Valencia faithful having secured Champions League qualification for two years in a row as well as beating Barcelona to win their first Copa del Rey trophy since 2008 back in May.
Under the Spaniard, this Valencia team rediscovered a sense of identity and stability following a two-year period during which the club went through six managers, producing a brand of football boasting the kind of zip and precision which the Mestalla had not seen in many years - especially in the 2017-18 season, which started with many lauding how the team played during a 2-2 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in what was Marcelino's second league game in charge.
Indeed, despite the departure of Marcelino, that core nucleus of talent driving this team forward continues to hold firm, with the talismanic Rodrigo leading the line whilst being ably supported by the talented Goncalo Guedes and backed up in midfield by a settled quartet containing Geoffrey Kondogbia, Dani Parejo, former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin and World Cup 2018 hero Denis Cheryshev.
Combined with summer signings such as Jasper Cillessen and Maxi Gomez, this squad, regardless of who sits in the dugout, possesses an element of togetherness and enough precision in the final third to give any team a number of problems, as Chelsea discovered in their opening game against Los Che, which saw Frank Lampard's side largely dominate proceedings but fail to break down a well-organised defensive structure before being pipped by a smart, perfectly executed free-kick routine finished off by Rodrigo.
For a team which has not played in the Champions League knockout phases since 2013, claiming a win in front of their own fans on Wednesday would give Valencia six points from two games ahead of back-to-back clashes with Lille, providing them with an excellent chance to reach the holy grail of 10 points - normally the requisite total for qualifying from the group stages.
However, they come up against a team in Ajax which knows all about the knockout phase of the Champions League having defied the conventions of this competition to come quite literally seconds away from reaching the final in Madrid last season, claiming convincing victories over both Real Madrid and Juventus in the process.
In a way, how deep Ajax managed to go into the knockouts - they missed out on the final through a 96th minute Lucas Moura goal - ranks second in importance next to the manner in which Erik ten Hag's team played during that run.
Following several years in the European wilderness, Ajax delighted footballing purists all over the world by producing a style of play straight from the Johan Cruyff handbook, with defender Matthijs de Ligt kicking off passing sequences from the back which would blossom into pinpoint triangles all over the pitch before the midfield, usually Frenkie de Jong, would release the ball through the lines once enough space had been created for the likes of Hakim Ziyech and David Neres to capitalise on. Donny van de Beek's goal against Tottenham Hotspur serves as a perfect example of this method coming off in truly seamless fashion.
However, with both De Ligt and De Jong sold to Juventus and Barcelona respectively over the summer, perhaps the true test of these players will be how they can perform against the backdrop of the campaign of their lives - often a time when, much like AS Monaco in 2018, dizzying success from one season somehow morphs into a disaster later on after the squad is ripped apart by stronger teams in the transfer window.
If Ajax are to go one better than what they managed last season, they will have to rely on the talented attacking trio of Dusan Tadic, Ziyech and Neres alongside the experience of wise heads such Daley Blind and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. How the Eredivisie champions perform in this competition promises to be one of the more intriguing storylines from the Champions League this season.
Recent Valencia form: LWDDW
Recent Ajax form: WWDWW
Team News© Reuters
New Valencia boss Albert Celades has a slight selection headache after Kondogbia and the experienced Kevin Gameiro suffered muscle injuries during the victory over Chelsea and missed last weekend's win over Athletic Bilbao.
Left-back Jose Gaya is ruled out for the game with a hamstring injury, while Cristiano Piccini and Carlos Soler are both long-term absentees, with both players suffering nasty afflictions towards the beginning of the season.
For Ajax, the return of Van de Beek, who has not featured in Europe since Ajax secured their place in the group stages against APOEL, serves as a boost for Ten Hag after the midfielder returned to action last week following an ankle problem.
Moreover, Ziyech is set for a return to the starting lineup having picked up a knock during the club's win over Lille.
Valencia possible starting lineup:
Cillessen; Wass, Paulista, Garay, Costa; Cheryshev, Coquelin, Parejo, Guedes; Gomez, Rodrigo
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Onana; Dest, Veltman, Blind, Tagliafico; Promes, Van de Beek, Martinez; Ziyech, Tadic, Neres
We say: Valencia 1-2 Ajax
For all the spirit they may have, Valencia remain a team in transition and have only won at home once this season, which suggests that this is a team perhaps lacking an element of control when under pressure in front of a raucous Mestalla crowd. You suspect that Ajax, whose away record in the Champions League was excellent last term, will pip the La Liga side in what promises to be a game played at a high tempo.
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