|Diego Alves closes down Lionel Messi during Valencia's trip to Camp Nou in February 2012.|
Photo courtesy of Maksur.
In the majority of cases, a goalkeeper's name tends to be the first on the team sheet not only because of his shirt number but also the command he has over his position. Suspicion of squad rotation has dissipated over the past two decades due to the physical demands of 60-game seasons played at modern-day intensity levels, but alternating goalkeepers remains the exception. For the best part of two seasons, however, Valencia's Vicente Guaita and Diego Alves have taken it in turns between the posts, with one of the pair being in favour for important domestic and European matches at different periods during that time.
After the veteran César Sánchez moved to Villarreal in the summer of 2011 and Miguel Ángel Moyà was loaned to Getafe, Valencia signed Alves from relegated Almería to compete with Guaita for the gloves. Having just earned a new contract thanks to a run in the side the previous season, Guaita began the 2011/12 campaign as Unai Emery's number one in La Liga but Diego Alves was selected for the club's Champions League fixtures. A hand injury that took longer to heal than expected saw Alves gain the advantage over Guaita for much of the winter but the latter proved he had left his troubles behind him that February with a demonstration of exemplary aerial strength and handling ability against, notably, Stoke City. Guaita regained his position in the league, but Alves was preferred for both Europa League semi-final matches against Atlético Madrid in April.
At the beginning of this season, Alves seized his chance with a typically acrobatic performance at the Bernabéu on the opening weekend of the season when Guaita was ruled out. Mauricio Pellegrino, who had taken over from Unai Emery that summer, kept faith with Alves when Guaita returned to fitness - in both La Liga and the Champions League - until the Brazilian made a costly error in a 2-0 defeat at Mallorca. Guaita was reinstated the following week but injury intervened again and the Spaniard found himself performing Alves' role from the previous season, that is warming the bench in the league but being trusted for European matches. The Spaniard's situation remained the same after the end of Pellegrino's brief tenure in December until interim coach Ernesto Valverde recalled him for the two league games prior to Valencia's Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain. Guaita was preferred for both legs against the French side but, since the beginning of February, he and Alves have been rotated in the league by Valverde, both getting two matches each before returning to the bench.
As if rotating goalkeepers was not uncommon enough, Valencia are doing it at a crucial juncture in the season. Los Che are in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot after a damagingly slow start to the season under the inexperienced Pellegrino, who would surely not have been appointed had the club's board not looked at the rejuvenation of Atlético Madrid under former player Diego Simeone and attempted to copy the model. Last Sunday, with Valencia sitting seventh at kick-off, Guaita was recalled to the starting line-up after serving his two games on the bench for a must-win home match against Real Valladolid. Alves, who had performed solidly in the 3-0 victory over Real Betis and the creditable 1-1 draw at Atléti, was back on the bench and watched on as his teammate made a superb save from Omar Ramos in Valencia's 2-1 win. The three points saw Valverde's side leapfrog both Betis and Malaga to go fifth, two points behind Real Sociedad. The two sides meet at the end of the month, when Alves is scheduled to play if the current policy continues.
Relationships between rival goalkeepers can be tense, as the falling out between Javi Varas and Andrés Palop at Sevilla proved last season, but so far there has not been any suggestion of ill feeling between Guaita and Alves over their situation. Both have won Valencia points in the league and both have made expensive errors, though Alves' showing at Mallorca was certainly less significant than Guaita's inexplicably poor performance in the home leg of the Champions League tie against PSG in the context of the season as a whole. The fact that the two keepers have remained impossible to separate for almost two years makes the current rotation of the pair seem like the fairest way to manage the situation. Many would have reservations about the effect that swapping between goalkeepers might have on the defence's organisation and communication but, with Valencia having been forced to select a different back four for each of the last seven games due to injury and suspension, continuity has been impossible anyway.
What seems fairly certain is that at least one of Guaita and Alves will not be at the club next season. As well as the strength of their performances drawing admirers, there remain pressing financial concerns that would motivate a sale. Club president Manuel Llorente resigned last Friday and Valencia's debts are still huge, with the local city government currently in charge of their affairs. Barcelona scouts were reportedly at the PSG match at Mestalla and, despite Guaita being at fault for both goals, El Mundo Deportivo has suggested this week that the 26-year-old remains their number one target should they opt to deal with the task of replacing Victor Valdés this summer. Alves, 27, has his admirers at Camp Nou too, as Catalan newspaper Sport reported in February, and has been on Arsenal's radar since his days at Almería. The north London club have had Guaita in their thoughts as well according to Valencian daily Superdeporte, with the fact that the same clubs are competing for both keepers emphasising just how closely matched they are despite their differing styles.
For now, though, Guaita and Alves remain members of a Valencia squad desperately trying to reach next season's Champions League. The financial windfall earned from that might not keep both at the club beyond the summer, but the pair should still be playing in the competition come September regardless.