A serious deterioration in performances and results was predicted when Valencia CF sold their big names in the summer to cover debts, yet remarkably the team have fared better than expected.
If the loss of David Villa's consistency and David Silva's creativity had fans fearing a goal drought, Aritz Aduriz soon allayed their concerns. Signed from RCD Mallorca in July, he scored on his Valencia debut and that strike proved a good omen for a season marked by his Spain debut in a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against Lithuania.
Replacing Villa would have been a daunting prospect for many a younger forward, but the 29-year-old Aduriz – vastly experienced, industrious and physically imposing – took the move in his stride. "I've been around, played for quite a few clubs, worked under my fair share of coaches and experienced many levels of the game," said the player known to Valencia fans as 'Zorro Vasco' (or Basque Fox).
"I've matured as a player, and played for some really good clubs – Burgos, Valladolid, Athletic Bilbao, Mallorca – but I'm experiencing something new. This is my first time in one of the top teams. This is the first time I've played at the highest level of European football – the UEFA Champions League is something else altogether."
After a flying start, Valencia led the Spanish Liga for a while, thanks in no small part to Aduriz's form. This prompted some in the media to claim Valencia were actually a better side without their departed stars.
"Maybe people assumed that after losing some big names, the team would go downhill, so we've surprised them," said Aduriz. "That the loss of players like David Silva and David Villa hasn't had a negative impact is a credit to the whole team. Football is a collective game and it shows everyone at Valencia is going in the same direction.
"One of our strong points is the wide players. I'm not just talking about attacking players, the wingers, because the full-backs really know how to get up the pitch. In the centre of the park we have great players who know what to do with the ball, and our wide players, on the right and left, can finish.
"It isn't a question of the opposition stopping an individual Valencia player.
We can play well through the left, the right and the centre of the pitch. That's the big difference – the attacking threat comes from all over the pitch rather than channelled through the same players all the time."
Valencia's squad has gelled in the face of adversity, proof of the prowess of coach Unai Emery. Aduriz believes the coach's methods, combined with stability in the dugout, have helped Valencia remain competitive: "The squad is really shaping up to how Unai Emery wants us to be and how he wants us to play.
"It's not about individuals but the collective. This is his third year here and the more time a manager has at a club, the greater his power of decision-making and influence. People trust him and that allows him to do what he thinks is best for Valencia.
"Unai doesn't have a rigid style. Like all good managers he can adapt to the situation and the individual. He shouts when he needs to, is your friend when he needs to be, and takes you to one side when he needs to help you. He knows how to keep a bit of distance because he's the boss. At times he has to make decisions not everyone is going to like. It's difficult to keep that balance but he does it very well. He knows when to give a little bit and when to make a stand."
Read exclusive interviews with the likes of Didier Drogba, Harry Redknapp and Thomas Müller in the latest edition of Champions magazine.
©UEFA.com 1998-2015. All rights reserved.