You did not have to read the respectful match programme notes of home manager Tony Pulis to appreciate the stature of last Thursday night's visitors to Stoke City FC – a simple glance around the directors' box was reminder enough of some of Valencia CF's past glories.
Rafael Benítez, the coach who led Valencia to the 2004 UEFA Cup along with two Liga titles, was there, picked up by the TV cameras making notes on his iPad. So too was Gaizka Mendieta, midfield star of the Blanquinegros side that reached successive UEFA Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001.
"One of the genuinely big names in European football" was how Pulis described the team who duly marked their 100th appearance in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League by ending Stoke's unbeaten home record in continental competition to leave the Premier League side with a mountain to climb in Thursday's round of 32 second leg at Mestalla.
It was a result that gave Valencia defender Ángel Dealbert hope of a long run in the UEFA Europa League for a team who have posted only two quarter-final appearances in Europe's major club competitions since that 2004 triumph under Benítez. Yet he knows nothing can be taken for granted – certainly not at a club which this week lost a key midfielder, Éver Banega, to a leg fracture sustained at a petrol station.
"For us it is a very important competition," he told UEFA.com. "We've come from the Champions League, we got knocked out there and we want to go as far as possible. For us it is very important, but we know there are some big teams in it so it won't be easy, and we have to eliminate Stoke first. It will be difficult.
Stoke are very strong from set pieces, very physical and we can't take anything for granted."
Besides the gulf in experience between Valencia and a Stoke side competing in Europe for the first time since 1974, there is also an obvious contrast in styles. Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita warned that his team must "be strong from the start in the second leg", having almost been caught out early on at Stoke, whose forward Jonathan Walters came close to scoring twice.
Guaita added: "
We know the way they play is totally different from how we play but you have to adjust to everything and not just the Spanish way when you're at a club like Valencia playing in Europe. At first it was difficult, they get the ball right into the goalmouth, and they had a long throw they nearly scored from but it got easier."
Valencia watched plenty of videos of Stoke's aerial approach before the first leg but on home soil, Dealbert's target is to "try to finish them off playing our own football". Individuals like Peter Crouch and Jermaine Pennant may have experience of facing the Liga's finest, but as a club Stoke have never played in Spain before and while their own ground can be one of the Premier League's most intimidating, they might get a taste of their own medicine at Mestalla. "It is 50,000 people, a big ground, a big pitch, the fans really get behind you," Dealbert said. "I think it will be a good game and let's see who gets through."
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