1 September, 2013; 2100 hrs, Local Time
Unconvincing so far. The Catalans have been anything but the team that they had been for the better part of the last few years. The stalemate against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup showed that the team needs to work on quite a few aspects of their game. And most importantly, Barcelona need a new penalty taker – Cesc Fabregas or Xavi, anyone?
The upcoming game against Valencia is a real test for Barcelona. Despite losing their talismanic striker Roberto Soldado to Tottenham Hotspurs, Los Che still have a decent team. And after losing their away match to Barcelona’s cross-town rivals, Espanyol, they will be eager to make amends at the Mestalla.
Last season, Valencia drew the match against Barcelona at the Mestalla and lost the one at Camp Nou. This season they will be hoping to take advantage of the Catalans, who are looking out of sorts, early in the season.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The loss of Roberto Soldado was a major blow to Valencia, who will now have to employ their contingency plan against the top dogs. They have signed the experienced Helder Postiga, 31, from Real Zaragoza for a reported sum of about £2.6 million. The problem with the Portuguese striker is that he has never been a prolific scorer, of the mould of Soldado and the midfield will now have an added responsibility to find the back of the net. After replacing Ernesto Valverde, Miroslav Dukic has clearly stated that his objective will be to take Valencia back among the top teams in Europe. However, doubts remain, whether he will be able to live up to his promise with an inferior replacement to their main goal-scoring threat – Roberto Soldado.
The Serbian retired footballer and manager has a preference for the balanced 4-2-3-1 formation. He likes to operate with two pivots which gives his team the balance and the necessary cover to the defense. With Valencia, Dukic has employed the same formation. With Helder Postiga upfront, the midfield trio will comprise Banega, Sofiane Feghouli and Jonas. While Banega offers the composure and the ability to dictate the tempo, Feghouli has the pace to ruffle the Barcelona defense, which is highly susceptible to fast counter attacks. Jonas on the right offers the strength and the creative spark needed in the final third of the pitch. The midfield pivot of Daniel Parejo and Javi Fuego offers the critical mix of flair and power. While the former is a proponent of the beautiful side of the game, Fuego adds the element of steel and of course the dirty work.
In defense, Jeremy Mathieu, reportedly a Barcelona target earlier this summer, had a terrible outing against Espanyol and might just make way for Andrés Guardado, the pacey Mexican fullback on the left – perhaps the perfect foil to Barcelona’s offensive fullbacks on the right. Ricardo Costa and Adil Rami belong to that category of brutal centrebacks who can intimidate opponents with their sheer physical presence and the slightly built Barcelona offensive players will find it difficult to cope with them. The experienced Joao Pereira will take his position at the right. Under the post Diego Alves will take his position.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Alves; Pereira, Rami, Costa, Guardado; Fuego, Parejo; Jonas, Banega, Feghouli; Postiga
They needed a defender, but they chose to invest on a young offensive player. Not that he isn’t doing well, but Barcelona are a club who do not have their priorities in order. Neymar’s crucial away goal got the Catalans their first trophy of the season and the first under Martino, but they have been far from convincing. Atletico were the better team for a good part of the 2 matches and it’s a shame that they just do not have the financial might that is needed to win a 38-game season. The world has been eagerly waiting for the prospect of seeing Argentine sensation Lionel Messi and Brazilian prodigy Neymar start and play together, this might just be the match where Martino might decide to unleash the two South Americans. Up front, Messi will take his usual position at the centre with Neymar on the left – a position which he usually excels at. The third spot to the right is a matter of contention between Pedro and Cristian Tello. It is no secret that the Chilean Sanchez has become one of the manager’s favourite in the last few days due to his work-rate and stamina; he has been played extensively and quite deservedly not been included in the squad to allow him a breather. Pedro is likely to edge past Tello, who recently signed a contract extension, mainly because of the experience he has in such crunch matches.
The midfield should comprise the trio of Sergio Busquets, Fabregas and Andres Iniesta. While Xavi perhaps deserved his chance in this match, but he too has been left out because of fatigue. Martino is seriously rotating the squad so as to have a relatively fresh one later into the season. Busquets provides the usual composure and protection to the centre-backs, and in the presence of players like Sofiane Feghouli, he has his work cut out. While the football fraternity was left awestruck with the amazing chemistry between Jordi Alba and Iniesta on the left, there has been a third angle to this duo – in the form of Neymar. The trio of Alba-Iniesta-Neymar on the left should be handful for most defences. This is perhaps the match where Cesc can show that he has it in him to lead the Barcelona midfield in days to come.
The defense shouldn’t be a surprise – Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano will be taking their place at the heart of the defense, with Dani Alves and Alba on either side. Martino could have used Bartra for his baptism by fire, but perhaps for the new manager caution is the need of the hour. After a fabulous outing against Atletico in midweek, Valdes will occupy his position under the post.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Cesc, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
- Barcelona have won their last 7 matches in La Liga.
- Valencia have won their last 6 home matches in La Liga.
- Barcelona are undefeated in their last 13 matches against Valencia in all competitions.
- Valencia have kept a clean sheet in their last 3 home matches in La Liga.
Player To Watch Out For
Neymar (FC Barcelona)
While Lionel Messi is an established star at the Camp Nou, Neymar is still a rookie. He will have to adjust more to Leo’s and Barcelona’s style than the other way round, and with his level of quality, is should just be a matter of time. Nevertheless, it will be an exciting prospect to see Neymar grow and develop under the tutelage of Leo and his teammates.
Valencia 0-0 FC Barcelona
Taking a cue from Simeone’s style, in midweek, Valencia will employ similar tactics with a set of players, who are physically robust. Barcelona will drop their first points of the La Liga campaign at Mestalla.
Blast From The Past