Valencia vs Villarreal: The ‘hidden’ regional rivalry grows in intensity

LaLiga fans the world over know that Spanish football is packed with historic derbies. You need look no further than Spain’s biggest cities – Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla – or the fierce traditional regional clashes in the Basque Country, Galicia, Andalusia, Canary Islands and elsewhere.

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There are, however, many heated local rivalries can go under the radar for some observers internationally. Villarreal’s visit to Valencia this Sunday – the Derbi de la Comunitat, as it is sometimes known – is one such fixture, a game which is sure to be played in a tense atmosphere at Mestalla as players supporters from both sides look to get one over on their regional rivals.

Manchester United’s English striker Marcus Rashford vies with Valencia’s Italian defender Cristiano Piccini (L) during the Champions League group H football match between Manchester United and Valencia at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on October 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO

Valencia are of course one of LaLiga’s biggest historic clubs. Los Che have played in Spain’s top flight in 84 of its 88 seasons since 1929, winning the title on six different occasions (1942, 1944, 1947, 1971, 2002, 2004).

Villarreal, meanwhile, had humbler origins in Spain’s semi-professional regional divisions, spending six decades in the lower tiers until they reached LaLiga Santander for the first time in 1998. But success has come quick and fast since then, with the club going as far as reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2006.

While the city of Valencia does of course have another LaLiga Santander team, with Levante first playing Valencia in the top flight in 1963 and establishing themselves in recent years as a top-flight regular, Villarreal have generally provided a stiffer test to Valencia in the league in recent years. It has become one of the hardest-fought fixtures in the division, with both sides often challenging each other directly at the top end of the table.

Although historically the ‘bigger neighbour,’ Valencia have found it very difficult at the Estadio de la Cerámica over the last decade. They’ve won just once there in ten years, a 2-0 victory in January 2017 courtesy of local hero Carlos Soler’s first league goal for the club. Villarreal, meanwhile, have enjoyed their recent 60-kilometre trips south to Mestalla, having left with a win on each of their last three visits.

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This rivalry has only been heightened by movement of players between the two sides. Villarreal’s defensive mainstays Victor Ruiz and Jaume Costa both began their careers at Valencia’s Mestalla youth side, while Russian international Denis Cheryshev is actually on loan at Valencia from Villarreal. Valencia legends David Albelda and Carlos Marchena, key cogs in the 2004 LaLiga title-winning side, also played for Villarreal during their careers.

2018/19’s first meeting back in September was a typically tight and ferocious affair, with neither team giving an inch to their rivals. This weekend should be no different, ensuring that LaLiga’s Derbi de la Comunitat is one you won’t want to miss.