Barcelona will be looking to bounce back from their shock defeat last week as they go up against a stuttering Valencia side at the Mestalla.
Marcelino made Mestalla a fortress again. But, Valencia have started the 2018-19 campaign on a mild note. A point and a couple of places separate them from relegation. It is not for lack of trying, though. Valencia are stuck in a horrible spiral of draws. The home side though, have recently snapped their five-game draw streak in the league with a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad.
Barcelona, on the other hand, will be looking to steer clear of Real Madrid and surprise joint-table toppers Deportivo Alaves, who beat Real on Saturday to go level on points with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Ernesto Valverde’s men are on a three-game winless streak in the league, with the 2-1 defeat to relegation battlers Leganes the one that is likely to be stinging the most.
Barcelona though, did spring back into form with a brilliant win over Tottenham in the Champions League during the midweek and will be looking to use it as a springboard to go on a neat run now.
Their last league encounter with each other at the Mestalla yielded a 1-1 draw, something neither team will be happy with, given their current respective circumstances. We take a closer look at the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
There are no long-term absentees for Valencia. In fact, Santi Mina is the only one in doubt of featuring against Barcelona. The youngster will likely sit this one out.
Marcelino should retain the back four that managed a clean sheet against Manchester United during the midweek – Jose Gaya and Cristiano Piccini guarding the flanks, with the partnership of Ezequiel Garay and Gabriel Paulista in central defence.
In what is expected to be the only change in midfield from the midweek starting eleven, Francis Coquelin should make way for wonderkid Carlos Soler on the right. Coquelin was started on the right as more of a defensive mechanism against Manchester United.
But, Soler should resume his duties against Barcelona. In attack, Rodrigo Moreno is guaranteed to start. But, Michy Batshuayi could lose his place to Kevin Gameiro. The Frenchman was the difference against Real Sociedad, which could compel Marcelino to hand him a start ahead of the on-loan Chelsea striker.
Marcelino does not like his teams to sit back. His tactics are a throwback to the vintage counter-attacking football in a 4-4-2 formation. The manager could advise his teams to take advantage of the width, with Sergi Roberto out injured for Barcelona.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Neto; Piccini, Garay, Gabriel, Gaya; Soler, Parejo, Kondogbia, Guedes; Rodrigo, Gameiro
Ernesto Valverde has a mild defensive crisis at hand. Sergi Roberto’s spell on the sidelines means Valverde is down to just Nelson Semedo as his option on the right side of the defence. Clement Lenglet will pair up with Gerard Pique in central defence, with Samuel Umtiti nursing his ankle.
There has been talks of Valverde reverting to a 4-4-2, which was used in majority of the games last season. But, after a run of disappointing results, the 4-2 win over Tottenham is likely to instill confidence within the manager to retain the 4-3-3, if only for a short while.
The midfield three should feature Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, the supposed untouchables under Valverde. Arthur’s performance against Tottenham could earn him a start against Valencia.
In attack, Luis Suarez is actually a doubt and could find himself on the bench on Sunday, with the striker not really in the best form either. In case that happens, Lionel Messi is likely to start in a central role, with Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho on either side of the Argentine phenomenon. Malcom will have to make do with a place on the bench once again.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Dembele, Messi, Coutinho
1. Valencia have won just one of their last 12 meetings with Barcelona in all competitions.
2. The Mestalla has been a comfortable visiting ground for Barcelona in recent times, with the club undefeated in their last six matches in all competitions.
3. Valencia have conceded more goals against Barcelona than any other team in the history of the competition.
4. Rodrigo Moreno has scored against Barcelona on the Catalans’ last two visits to the Mestalla.
5. Lionel Messi has an imperious record of 24 goals and 12 assists in 28 games against Valencia in all competitions.
Player to Watch
There were shades of Xavi in the close ball control that Arthur showed against Tottenham in the Champions League. Billed as the next midfield general for Brazil, Arthur’s composure when being pressed heavily by the opposition players is a rare trait and something that has been missing from the Barcelona midfield since the departure of Andres Iniesta and Xavi.
He has been slowly phased into the starting eleven by Ernesto Valverde. But, the manager should feel the midfielder is ready to become a regular fixture at the club. The sooner, the better for Barcelona.
Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
It is going to be tough for Barcelona to defeat Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday. While Valencia are struggling and find themselves on the wrong side of the La Liga table, they have lost just one of their seven league games thus far. Undefeated at home in La Liga, Valencia even ran Juventus close in the Champions League before the Italian giants found their way to three points.
Valencia’s penchant for draws this season combined with Barcelona’s recent domestic troubles makes for an interesting storyline on Sunday. Barcelona will have added motivation, with a win or even a draw capable of making them the sole leaders of La Liga for the time being.
We expect the two teams to play out a draw. But, Barcelona are slight favourites going into the match and a win for the away side might not be a total shock after all.