Do or die as Chelsea face Valencia
It should never have come to this. When Valencia captain David Albelda spoke to former team-mate Juan Mata earlier in the Champions League campaign he told him — only half in jest — to make sure Chelsea beat Bayer Leverkusen to help send both teams through.
Chelsea slipped and now it's do or die in the last game in their group. Mata — whose Chelsea team-mates have nicknamed him Johnny Kills (a literal translation of his name) — must fall, if his friend Albelda is to pass.
According to the latter, it's a minor miracle that Valencia are even in this sort of company given all that has happened to them in recent years.
They are the survivor club and Albelda — a servant of 15 seasons — is king of the survivors. The irony will not be lost on him if Mata crashes out tonight and David Silva goes the same way tomorrow while the stone-broke side forced to sell both stars goes through.
“We spoke earlier in the tournament,” he says of his friendship with Mata. “I was saying to him, 'See if you can beat those Germans and do us all a favour.' Unfortunately it wasn't to be and now we have to compete against each other.”
Albelda is not surprised by the incredible success of his former team-mate in London.
“When a club like Chelsea pays that kind of money, it is because the player is already proving what a top player he is. We are well aware of his quality.”
Mata's goal threat will be a problem for Albelda tonight. Albelda is the man who protects Valencia's back four, the player about whom Pep Guardiola once commented: “When Valencia attack he is already thinking about defending.”
Valencia’s struggled have been well documented. On the way to the club's out-of-town training ground you pass the unfinished new stadium, a concrete bowl that resembles their current stadium — the one they can't sell. Their problems stem from the reign of previous president Juan Soler and local boy Albelda has always been vocal about that — dissent which led, in part, to him being ostracised under former boss Ronald Koeman.
“I was a marked man because I wouldn't sit down with them,” he says of the men he believes bled the club dry.
The situation has eased under the presidency of Manuel Llorente and the sales of David Villa, Silva and Mata, but Albelda knows striker Roberto Soldado, who is the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga could be the next to leave. He threatens not just Chelsea tonight but also the place of their misfiring striker Fernando Torres in the Spain squad.
Although Albelda believes that despite Soldado being the form player, the Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has to some extent closed ranks around those already in the squad.
Albelda's time as an international has passed. He would have been in the group that won the 2008 European Championship had Koeman not sidelined him that season leaving Luis Aragones no option but to leave him out.
Now 33 he bears no grudges and prefers to focus instead on the good times — two leagues and a Uefa Cup win under Rafa Benitez.
Whatever happens tonight nobody wants a brave failure having thrashed Genk 7-0 in the last game.
“If you had given us a series of options the last thing we would have chosen would be to have to go to London in the last game and play for our lives with them (Chelsea) having to win as well.
“We played that penultimate game with one eye on the Chelsea match. We saw that Drogba had scored and we were aware of the fact that the best result for both teams was a Chelsea win. But that did not happen so now we have to go there and fight.”