Sunday, February 3, 18:00 GMT
Estadio Mestalla, Valencia
Barcelona will travel to the Mestalla in matchday 22 of La Liga, looking to maintain their very sound lead at the top of La Liga. The advantage already acquired pretty much allows Tito Vilanova’s side to have quite a few slips, but the team will still be looking to clinch the title as early as possible so they can focus more intensely on the Champions League.
A trip to the Mestalla is never easy though, although Valencia are far from their best this season – in fact only two weeks ago they lost 5-0 in their own stadium against Real Madrid. But they will be looking to improve and at least make the Catalans work for their money.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Los Ché have noticeably improved under Ernesto Valverde and are slowly but steadily closing in on a European spot, but they’re still far away from where they were even last season. The league match against Real Madrid at Mestalla showcased a Valencia as far from their very best as they’ve been in recent memory. However, they will undoubtedly do their best to turn the tide against the league leaders.
The return of Ever Banega will give Valverde a much needed boost in midfield, where he should start along with Tino Costa. Jonas, Canales and Piatti will form a trio behind the sole striker, either Soldado or Nelson Valdés. At the back, Diego Alves will be the keeper with a back four of Guardado, Ricardo Costa, Rami and João Pereira ahead of him. The strategy will be to contain Barcelona as far as possible and employ the blistering pace of Piatti on the counterattack. After playing very open against Real Madrid and getting thoroughly punished for that, Valverde is sure to employ a more cautious approach against Barcelona.
Confidence isn’t exactly sky high at the moment at Valencia, but they are traditionally a very difficult opponent for Barcelona, especially in their stadium and will be looking to make life hell for Messi and co.
Probable Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Diego Alves; Guardado, Ricardo Costa, Rami, João Pereira; Ever Banega, Tino Costa; Jonas, Canales, Piatti; Soldado
This is a side that pretty much needs no introductions. The league leaders will be looking to further cement their lead at Mestalla after an always intense midweek Clásico against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu for the Copa del Rey (1-1). Tito Vilanova is still in New York recovering from his illness but Jordi Rourahas been filling in for him perfectly – both results and level of play have remained excellent. A potential bad result at Mestalla would have very little effect on the club’s title aspirations, but Barcelona are still hungry to win every match and secure the title as early as possible.
Valdés will start in goal as usual, with a back four of former Valencia player Jordi Alba, Piqué, one of Mascherano or Puyol and Daniel Alves on the right. In midfield, Busquets, Xavi and Fabregas are likely to start, with Iniesta, Messi and Pedro up front – pretty much the same lineup that played at the Bernabeu in midweek and that has played most matches this season. It is not inconceivable though that players like Villa, Sanchez or Thiago might be given the nod for this match, especially if some of the usual starters are fatigued.
Barcelona will look to seize the initiative from the very first minute as they always do and score as early as possible. Their last away match, at Anoeta, ended in the first defeat of the league season and they will be looking to make amends in this match.
Probable Lineup: Victor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas; Andrés Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona haven’t lost at Mestalla ever since Guardiola took charge.
- The reverse fixture ended 1-0 for Barcelona.
- Last season’s match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Player To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
After a poker of goals last week against Osasuna, all eyes will be on the world’s best player again as he keeps looking to add to his frankly unbelievable goal tally for the season (33 goals in 21 La Liga matches alone). Can Valencia stop the Argentine supernova?
Valencia 1 – 1 Barcelona
After an almost perfect first half of the season, Barcelona will slip again on the road. Valencia will be pumped for this match and snatch a draw, with Messi and Soldado on target for each side.