Mestalla Stadium, Valencia
Sunday 30th Nov, 2014, 20:00 GMT
As we approach the month of December, the race for the title in Spain still remains tight with the top four teams separated by six points. Barcelona have looked strong since the international break with three consecutive wins including an impressive 4-1 victory over Sevilla last weekend. They face another testing fixture tomorrow as they travel to the Mestalla to take on fourth place Valencia in Sunday’s late game. Lionel Messi finally broke Telmo Zarra’s record as the all-time La Liga top scorer with a hattrick last weekend and he got another one in midweek as well. He will be looking to continue his impressive goalscoring streak against a strong looking Valencia side.
Los Che are playing a brand of football that their supporters became used to in the glory days. There is certainly a feeling that the club is returning to where it belongs and much of the credit goes to new owner Peter Lim. Since his takeover of the club in May this year, Valencia have gone from strength to strength both on and off the pitch. Their title aspirations took a hit in recent weeks after a 2-1 loss against local rivals Levante and a 0-0 draw with Athletic Bilbao at home. However with just four points and two places separating the two sides, the stakes could not have been much higher.
Team news and tactical brief
Valencia manager Nuno Espírito Santo finally got Alvaro Negredo to make his full debut last week. He visibly looked rusty but slowly he will regain his sharpness. Espírito Santo should be able to call upon the services of Paco Alcacer after he recovered from his hamstring strain while Dani Parejo could also start after recovering from a similar injury. The strikers have enjoyed the services from midfielders Sofiane Feghouli and Pablo Piatti, both of whom have been industrious and incisive in crucial junctures this season. Andre Gomes has been very impressive since his move from Benfica and this is exactly the sort of game where he needs to display his attributes to really announce his arrival in the big stage.
World Cup winner German international Shkodran Mustafi will start in defence alongside Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi. Valencia have conceded just 11 goals so far this season and have the second best defensive record in Spain. However they are easily facing their toughest test till date as they come up against a deadly attacking trio in Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Jose Gaya has earned rave reviews this season following his displays in the left-back position and he will need to be at his best as he prepares to tackle Luis Suarez on that flank tomorrow.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Alves(GK); Barragan, Otamendi, Mustafi, Gaya; Parejo, Feghouli; Piatti, Gomes, Alcacer; Negredo
Team news and tactical brief
Luis Enrique will be hoping Barcelona keep up their good run of form in a ground where they have traditionally done well. They haven’t tasted a La Liga defeat at Mestalla since 2007. Barcelona are buoyed after their impressive win against Sevilla last time out and while Lionel Messi has taken all of the plaudits, the team as a whole performed very well recently. Daniel Alves is likely to start at right back while Jordi Alba should face his former side as well. Jeremy Mathieu departed Valencia after five seasons during which he became an integral member of the squad as he switched from left-back to central back. Barcelona signed the 31-year-old for €20 million and the Frenchman has settled in well at his new club. He will be partnered in central defence by Gerard Pique who has found some form after a shaky start to this season.
Andreas Iniesta is fully fit but Ivan Rakitic is expected to start while Xavi and Sergio Busquetes should also retain their places in the starting 11. Luis Suarez scored his first goal for Barcelona in the 4-0 win over Apoel in midweek. While his link-up play has already looked impressive, the goal will give him a lot of confidence and he will be looking to add to his tally tomorrow. Neymar will form the front trident with Lionel Messi who became the all-time highest scorer in Champions League after his hat-trick on Wednesday. Messi also became the top scorer in Primera Division last weekend and it is safe to say the Argentine is at the top of his game which is bad news for the Valencia defence.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Bravo(GK); Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Xavi, Rakitic, Busquetes; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
Valencia are without a win in seven league meetings with Barcelona at the Mestalla (D4 L3); their worst ever home run against the Catalan side
Los Che have not won successive league games against Barca since 2003, when Rafa Benitez was manager
Barcelona have won more away games against Valencia than they have against any other opponent (31)
Valencia are undefeated in their last 7 home matches in La Liga
Players to Watch Out For
Andre Gomes (Valencia)
The 21-year old has already attracted glances from Barcelona following his impressive start to the season. The current captain of Portugal under-20 side has made 10 appearances for Valencia this season and although he has a different role on the pitch, reports suggest that he is seen as a long term replacement of Xavi Hernandez. Gomes is currently on a season-long loan from Benfica but it looks likely that the midfielder will be playing in Spain beyond the current campaign.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Lionel Messi is in scintillating form and has been breaking records every time he stepped on to the field in the last week. Valencia are one of his preferred opponents having already netted five times in the last three games and he will be fancying himself to get on the score sheet again this time.
Valencia 1–3 FC Barcelona
Valencia are desperate to get back to winning ways after their disappointing displays recently however it looks a tall order to contain Barcelona’s forward three of Suarez, Neymar and Messi. Los Che will pose a threat no doubt but their defence does not look strong enough to cope up with the Barcelona frontline and Luis Enrique’s side should get the win although it will be a tough test. Although Valencia have displayed plenty of quality this season, Barcelona are the favorites for this game.
Blast From the Past
Lionel Messi scored a hattrick in this fixture last season as Barcelona ran out 3-2 winners.