March 3, 2011; 02:30 am, IST
Finally the portentous month of February is over and Barcelona has escaped with a little dent to their silverware ambitions. With a loss in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League, against Arsenal, and points dropped against Gijon, Guardiola’s men will be more than eager to prove a point and pull up their socks as soon as possible. Valencia too will be keen to consolidate their position to qualify for Champions League next season.
The last time these teams met, at the Camp Nou, it was a keenly contested match. Valencia drew first blood, as Pablo Hernández scored in the 37th minute to give the Los Che a shocking lead. Unai Emery’s men went into the interval as the better team. However, the hosts made a heroic return, as the ever reliable Andres Iniesta and talismanic captain Puyol scored for the Catalans to grab all three points. The match also marked David Villa’s first appearance against his previous club.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Valencia do not start as favourites and this has been endorsed by none other than their manager – Unai Emery. “If Barcelona keep possession as usual, then we are cannon fodder,” said the manager. This can also be an attempt to de-stress his team. The manager however, did not stunt his team’s chances. “We have to think we can beat them and we have the players who can really play well against Barcelona. However, we know it will be very difficult,” Emery added. Los Che has had a great start to their season and was at the apex after the 3rd, 5th and 6th week. However, their bad form continued for quite some time and finally, they have managed to stabilize their situation and look well placed to secure a Champions League spot for 2011-12 season.
The Los Che confirmed in a statement that they had told Miguel he would not be allowed to train with the first-team squad for an indefinite period. The club took the disciplinary action against the player, who they have also fined, after he turned up late for training. The loss of a fullback of Miguel’s calibre will surely hurt the host’s chances. Veteran David Albelda and star striker Aritz Aduriz will also miss out due to injuries. The absence of a few key personnel will surely prove detrimental. Quite surprisingly, Mestalla is the only top-tier ground at which Guardiola has failed to win since taking over at Barcelona. A good performance against the champions, along with the hard-fought away win against Athletic Bilbao last weekend, will surely give the hosts reason to cheer and also an optimism to salvage the situation.
Probable Starting Line-up: Panadero, Costa, Mathieu, Alba, Maduro, Banega, Topal, Pablo, Joaquin, Soldado, Mata.
Pep Guardiola’s side has responded well to their February predicament. After a win against Mallorca, with almost half of their regular starters missing, Barcelona will be confident to make their trip to Mestalla. Injury problems still plague the Spanish champions as Puyol and Valdes continue to train separately. Xavi however, has returned to full training and has looked at ease. Jeffren too has made a comeback, but is doubtful for this match. Meanwhile, Dani Alves makes a comeback after serving a one match suspension. The latest member to get injured in the Barca camp is none other than Pep Guardiola. “Pep had been holding up for days but he couldn’t anymore. I think he’ll be there tomorrow,” said assistant coach, Tito Vilanova.
This time around, a weird situation lingers around the Catalan giants. Star striker David Villa has to attend a court case in his native Asturias province, in northern Spain, early on Wednesday morning. This is the consequence of a civil lawsuit brought against him by his former agent Jose Luis Tamargo. It is assumed that Villa would make himself available for the match; however, if at all he doesn’t, Bojan and Afellay have it in them to make up for the loss. Argentine footballer, Lionel Messi, is expected to start from his customary ‘false 9’ position with Pedro to his right. If Villa is available, he’ll most certainly slot in at the left. Midfield maestro, Xavi has been given the green light by the medical team. Nonetheless, Barca wouldn’t exactly want to risk their chief architect, especially when they have a 7-point cushion at the top of the league. The fact that Keita and Busquets played with exceptional aplomb against Mallorca could allow Barca to rest Xavi. However, the latter can be expected to make a cameo later into the match. Gerard Pique and Abidal will be at the heart of the Blaugrana fortress, with Alves and Maxwell on either side. Pinto is all set to make his second consecutive league appearance. This allows B-team custodian, Ruben Mino, to travel with the team.
Probable Starting Line-up: Pinto, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Busquets, Keita, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
1. Mestalla is the only top-tier ground at which Guardiola has failed to win since taking over at Barcelona.
2. Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro have 56 goals among them, 1 more than what the entire Real Madrid squad has scored in the 2010-11 season.
3. Dani Alves (11) has the second most number of assists after Lionel Messi (14). Third is Real Madrid’s Ozil (8)
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
David Villa (FC Barcelona)
If the striker makes himself available for the clash, he’ll surely be the man to watch out for. One of Mestalla’s favourites, Villa has enjoyed great success with Valencia. Given the incredible player that he is, the star striker has made himself a vital cog in the Barca scheme of things. His availability and ability to ruffle the opposition defenders will definitely add sheen to the Barcelona attack.
Valencia 0-2 FC Barcelona
The hosts are plagued with injuries and suspensions. It’s highly unlikely that they will upset the champions. However, if at all anything of that sort happens, Emery’s men should very well go ahead to cement their place in the Champions League next season.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST