Spanish side Valencia are arguably one of the countries most decorated and well-established clubs, although you probably wouldn't have guessed that over recent seasons. Consistently poor on-field performances, alongside chaotic boardroom politics, crippling financial debt and a total of 19 managers in the space of 13 seasons have seen the 2000 and 2001 Champions League finalists dwindle in mid-table obscurity.
It's a far cry from there infamous 2003/04 season that saw a Valencia side, led by Rafael Benitez, claim a historic La Liga and UEFA Cup double. In what turned out to be Benitez's last season in charge of 'Los Che', he left the foundations in place for a successor to hopefully build a successful resistance to the overwhelming domestic force of both Barcelona and Real Madrid, yet they were left waiting.
Their wait however could soon be over, as recently appointed manager Marcelino Garcia Toral has overseen a miraculous change in Valencia's fortunes. The Spaniard hopes to continue his impressive start with Valencia and build on the work already started by Atletico Madrid to bridge the gap between themselves and the 'El Clasico' heavyweights.
To fully appreciate the status quo that has governed not only La Liga, but also Europe over the past decade or so, the tables below indicate the sheer divide between Barcelona and Real Madrid to the rest of the pack
|Teams||La Liga Titles Won Since the 2003/04 Season|
|Country||Champions League Winners on and Since the 2005/06 Season|
|*Real Madrid (Spain)||3|
The only other team to successfully mount a challenge in La Liga recently have been Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid, in 2014. It could have been so much more for 'Los Colchoneros' as a last-minute Sergio Ramos header denied Atletico Madrid of a historic league and Champions League double, before going on to lose 4-1 in extra-time.
With another Champions Leagues final defeat two years later to Real Madrid once more, along with consistent top three La Liga finishes, Atletico Madrid appeared to by the only other La Liga side with serious aspirations of shaking up the natural order. That was until the beginning of this season.
Valencia's start to the 2017/18 season should not be underestimated, especially when you consider the arduous road they've travelled to reach this position. Currently sat 2nd behind Barcelona, they are yet to taste defeat in the league this season, while taking advantage of both Atletico and Real Madrid's poor starts to the season.
Marcelino's Valencia have garnered a reputation for their dynamic and ruthless displays. A recent 4-0 demolition of serial UEFA Europa League winners Sevilla is testament to those beliefs, while a 2-2 draw against reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid at the start of the season was an early indication of his side's promising potential.
With the emphasis placed on youth, Marcelino assembled a vibrant squad, giving them confidence and platform to flourish.
Paris Saint-Germain loanee Goncalo Guedes has caught the eye with some impressive displays, while academy graduate Carlos Soler provides genuine quality from the right flank, with four La Liga assists himself.
Marcelino has also taken chances to resurrect playing careers at the Mestalla Stadium this season. Players such as former West Ham misfit Simone Zaza has taken his chance with both hands, scoring nine La Liga goals this season, with only Lionel Messi scoring more than him in the league, while strike partner Rodrigo has chipped in with another six goals.
Geoffrey Kondogbia is another beneficiary of this rebirth under Marcelino. Signed on loan from Inter Milan in the summer following a dismal spell in Italy, the Frenchman looks a different player for Valencia. Strong and mobile at the heart of Valencia's midfield, Kondogbia epitomises the aggression and high pressing that Marcelino expects of his side, whilst chipping in with a couple of goals.
Although Valencia play with a high press and flamboyant manner offensively, this does leave them open defensively. Conceding more than anyone else in the top four, Marcelino will hope his side's defensive susceptibility can be tweaked to improve on what has been an outstanding start.
Despite Valencia's impressive start to the season, it is just that. Nothing should be taken away from the job Marcelino has done at Valencia in such a small space of time, although it will all counting for nothing if his side fall away as the season progresses.
The fact that Valencia held their own against Real Madrid already this season, and were seven minutes away from a 2-1 victory should be their greatest indication that they have what it takes to follow in Atletico Madrid's footsteps in defying the 'El Clasico' establishment.
With more than half the season to go, the true measure of Valencia's aspirations will be determined in 2018, although another character in the race for the La Liga title certainly wouldn't go amiss, we all need a change after all.