Peter Lim's Valencia suffered one of their biggest humiliations to Barcelona: a 7-0 drubbing in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals, led to the slaughter by Gary Neville. Yet a mere 21 months later, their form and fortunes paint an entirely different picture. Only six players from that Valencia squad remain: Parejo, Gayà, Rodrigo, Mina, Jaume and Rubén Vezo; the rest are new faces, and the six mentioned above play as if they are too. The club also has a different president in Anil Murthy, and new figures calling the shots on the football side: Mateo Alemany and Marcelino.
Valencia's metamorphosis comes to a climax on Sunday evening as first play second. However, in La Liga Los Blanquinegros haven't beaten Barcelona at Mestalla for a decade; in fact, Los Azulgranas are the side with the most wins there since the stadium was built in 1923. That translates into 33 wins in La Liga and 39 in the Copa del Rey and Europe. Over the past ten years, Valencia have frequently stood up to Barça but have always struggled at home, their fortunes compounded by Leo Messi and his eight goals since 2007.
That extra step
Tonight few doubt the home side will compete, but this year many believe they can go one step further and come out victorious: in Marcelino they trust. Time will tell whether they are true title contenders, or more realistically face a battle for Champions League qualification, but their progress has been impressive - the days of Neville feel like a distant memory.