From boo-boy to top of the class - few players have experienced a role reversal quite like that of Dani Parejo at Valencia. In 2012, while in his first season with the club, he was singled out by fans as a target of their frustration. Now in 2014, he’s one of very few players giving those exact fans some hope.
His winner against Elche last weekend came as no surprise to those who have been watching Parejo regularly this term. An 8.10 rating in the 2-1 victory saw him pick up his 3rd WhoScored Man of the Match award in La Liga this season, a figure exceeded by no fellow teammate. Rumours of a big money move have surfaced, which is not surprising giving his form and Valencia’s label as a selling club.
With Éver Banega and Fernando Gago both pushed out the door, there was a need for someone to guide the often unsteady Valencia ship. Few people believed Parejo to be the player capable of such a task. One article referred to him as a “bloodless player”; blood being a term often used in Spanish football to describe someone committed and imposing on the field.
Now however, to Valencia’s reward, no one imposes himself quite like Parejo. The key has perhaps been a simple case of continuity. With Banega and Gago around - plus Sergio Canales to an extent - Parejo found it difficult at first to break through. Being handed a few minutes here and there was never going to allow him to shine. He needed that familiarity with his teammates, so he could build up an on-field relationship with them and learn how to unleash their qualities to the fullest extent.
From a positional perspective too, Parejo has been afforded a change. Instead of a defensive midfielder propping up others, he’s been playing in a more advanced role and been allowed to dictate play in the final third. WhoScored shows too that when played in this role, Parejo scores a better rating. This season when used as an attacking midfielder he has scored a 7.63 rating, a sharp contrast to the 7.38 when in defensive midfield.
Parejo’s current overall rating of 7.44 – the highest at Valencia this season and 15th best in La Liga overall – is a stark contrast from last season, when he ended the season on 7.02. In the Europa League meanwhile he has carried on his fine domestic form, with a rating of 7.45 only being topped by one other player. Parejo’s improvement simply can’t be ignored.
Last season Parejo managed 49.1 passes per game on average, and although that was still the most at the club, it is nowhere near his current mark. With 64.7 key passes per game on average this season in La Liga, no on even comes close at Valencia in terms of passing influence, while he also maintains an impressive accuracy rating of 87.4%. The indecision in his game has all but vanished, and instead Parejo is imposing his style on games. Perhaps the clearest indication of this was against Barcelona, with his team level at 1-1 at half-time. Parejo came out of the dressing room as if possessed, grabbing his team by the scruff of the neck and urging them not to be intimidated by the Camp Nou or the team that inhabits it. A player labelled ‘bloodless’, turning on the style and offering steel in the most grand of environments. Juan Antonio Pizzi deployed two defensive midfielders allowing Parejo to focus on turning the game around, and he did exactly that, weighing in with a goal and proving decisive as Valencia carved out an unforeseen victory.
Parejo’s ability now to pick holes in opposing defences is refreshing to see, especially for a player who hardly carries the demeanour of a devastating playmaker. His vision and ability to read the game have become invaluable. Take, for instance, his 2.2 key passes per game this season in La Liga, which is more than any other player at Valencia and a significant increase on his 1.4 from 2012/13. Only four players have averaged more key passes per game in La Liga this season, and two of them are Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic – such integral attacking figures for their respective teams. It’s these sorts of names Parejo now finds himself alongside, such has been his level of performance and consistency too. The variation in his passing game makes him such a threat, a player not content with only stroking about neat and short passes, with his 5.2 accurate long balls per game and 1.4 crosses per game showing he can hurt opponents in a variety of manners.
Parejo gives the Valencia midfield a much-needed balance, as he judges the duties between attacking and defensive transitions adeptly. Take for instance his 1.5 dribbles per game this season, showing the confidence to carry the ball and take the game to opponents. WhoScored labels Parejo’s dribbling as very strong when it comes to his player characteristics. This is balanced out by WhoScored also rating his ‘defensive contribution’ as a strength. Parejo is currently managing 2.4 tackles per game and 1.6 interceptions. Although integrated with the attack more these days, the 25-year-old is by no means disregarding his defensive output – in fact in both of the aforementioned areas Parejo is bettering his statistics from last season.
Maybe we all should’ve listened to Alfredo Di Stefano when it comes to Dani Parejo. The Real Madrid legend remarked in 2007 that Parejo was the best player in their cantera at the time, branding him a phenomenon with a fine future. The story extends further too, with a rumour that Di Stefano even went so far as to stop attending Real Madrid Castilla games when Parejo was eventually sold.
Di Stefano maybe saw something many people didn’t, but at least now with a trip to Mestalla, they can do.
How great a rise has Parejo's been? Do you rank him amongst the best in La Liga now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below