January 20, 2013; 20:00 GMT
As the world comes to terms with Lance Armstrong’s shocking-but-expected admission about his doping, another controversy is bubbling over in Spain: match-fixing allegations. These allegations are serious because they have been made by none other than the vice-president of the Spanish FA, Javier Tebas. He admitted that he has knowledge about the cheats but no proof to indict them. This sounds awfully similar to the David Walsh situation in the Armstrong case and will be viewed with great interest in the coming weeks.
Amidst all this and the controversial statements about referees made by both Real Madrid and Valencia players in the recent weeks, both teams clash in the second of three encounters, this time in the league. In the Copa Del Rey clash midweek, Real Madrid did win but missed quite a few chances to put the tie to bed and instead will have to travel to Mestalla to work as hard as they can to progress to the next round. Their draw against Osasuna in the last La Liga match put them a staggering 18 points behind Barcelona and almost ensures that Mourinho will not be at the Spanish capital next summer. The only thing keeping the Portuguese at the Santiago Bernabeu is the dream of La Decima.
Valencia on the other hand have seen their fortunes flourish after the appointment of Ernesto Valverde. Under Mauricio Pellegrino, they struggled to match their last season’s form and were languishing in the bottom half of the table as their rivals for the coveted Champions League spot, Atletico Madrid made rapid strides in the league and are more-or-less sure of qualifying for Europe next season.
The appointment of Ernesto Valverde has injected a new life into the club. Since the former Spanish forward took over,Valencia have lost only two games – one to Rayo Vallecano in the league and other to Real Madrid this week in the Copa Del Rey. Their confidence seems to be back and the defence looks sorted ahead of their clash against the La Liga champions.Valencia are believed to be offering Ernesto Valverde a new deal already to keep him for at least another two years fending off interest from other Spanish clubs like Athletic Bilbao.
Team News & Tactics
Valencia will field a similar styled-team they fielded in the Copa Del Rey clash mid-week. Despite the fact, Joao Pereira had a decent game and even attacked Real Madrid in the last few minutes of their Copa clash, Barragan is expected to start on the right offering more solidity in defense. While Ricardo Costa was on the bench,Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami failed to strike a proper rapport between them and Rami would be more than happy to welcome Costa as his central defensive partner. Andres Guardado had a forgettable game and would like to put in a better shift this time.
Tino Costa and Dani Parejo started mid-week but Parejo will be replaced by the more experienced Fernando Gago in the midfield even though Parejo had an excellent game. Gago brings more solidity and guile in the midfield and will help out Banega who will play further forward as the primary playmaker.
Piatti, Jonas and Soldado will start in offense and will look to settle the scores after the referees made some terrible offside calls against them. Jonas and Piatti are usually fast and technically good players who will get into good spaces to run at the Madrid defense who will play a little higher up the pitch as they did mid-week. Both of them and Soldado had a few chances but could not convert them into goals.
In case things don’t go to plan, Valverde has the option of Nelson Valdez as another striker along with Dani Parejo. Both have the ability to score and make things work for Valencia.
Probable Staring Line-up (4-2-3-1): Guaita; Barragan, Rami, R.Costa, Guardado; Gago, T.Costa; Jonas, Banega, Piatti; Soldado
While Valencia don’t really have problems at the back, the same cannot be said of Real Madrid. Pepe is still injured while Sergio Ramos is suspended and will not be available for the second leg of the Copa clash too. In the absence of his best central defensive partnership, Mourinho may opt for Varane and Carvalho. Raul Albiol is available too but Carvalho has had two terrific games in a row and will be in firm contention for the starting spot. Another factor which may go in Carvalho’s favor is the return of Marcelo to the left flank and when the Brazilian goes on one of his famous runs, Carvalho can stay back and provide decent cover.
Alonso and Khedira are automatic starters in the central midfield. Sami Khedira has improved leaps and bounds under Mourinho and has been very influential in offense and defense this season. His great form has ensured that Modric and Essien have not got enough chances to start in central midfield. Khedira is probably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe currently and has turned into a worthy successor to Michael Ballack for the German national team.
Luka Modric has endured a terrible start to his Real Madrid career but is now slowly regaining the confidence which made him such an exciting player at Tottenham Hotspur. The awful form of Angel Di Maria may prompt Mourinho to push Ozil to the right and play Modric in the centre behind the striker to lend greater creativity to the offense. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema will lead the team in attack.
The biggest asset of this Real Madrid is pace and ability to counter attack. The recent example of Essien breaking free and releasing Khedira who assisted Benzema for the first goal in the Copa Del Rey will serve as a timely reminder to Valencia about the strengths of this team.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Varane, Carvalho, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Ozil, Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema
Player to Watch Out For
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
The Brazilian was out with an injury for a long time and having been adjudged the best left back in the world at the recent FIFA Ballon D’or ceremony, will be keen to demonstrate his attacking prowess alongside his usual partner, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
Roberto Soldado, the captain has been in fine form in this season. He has already scored ten goals and is possibly the best Spanish striker in form, competing with Michu for a place in the national side. Another good performance against Real Madrid is sure to keep him in reckoning for that elusive striker spot.
Valencia 1 – 2 Real Madrid
While Valencia are in great form, Real Madrid have too much quality to lose such a big match. And with the second leg of the Copa Del Rey still to be played,Real Madrid will be keen to return to a habit of winning.