Ronald Koeman’s job could be on the line when FC Barcelona take on Valencia at Camp Nou this Sunday evening.

Following a week-long international break, FC Barcelona are set to resume their Laliga campaign when they play hosts to Valencia on Sunday. It is set to be an acid test for Ronald Koeman, who is under pressure after back to back defeats to SL Benfica and Atletico Madrid prior to the break.

The poor run of form has left Barca in a precarious position, as they are currently in mid-table in Laliga, even trailing their weekend opponent Valencia. They are also running the risk of potentially missing out on the UEFA Champions League altogether, having lost their first two games to Benfica and Bayern Munich.

On a brighter note, the Catalans do have a game in hand, and can realistically close the gap to league leaders Real Madrid to just two points, should they secure a win over Valencia.

The fact that Los Che have won only once in their last five matches does bode well for the hosts. But Pepe Bordalas’ men can be quite resilient, if required, having conceded just eight goals in eight matches so far.

Barcelona themselves haven’t been particularly leaky, but compared to their high standards, it has certainly been a disastrous start to the season. The stakes could be high particularly for Koeman, who has had the backing of president Joan Laporta, but another agonising draw or defeat could lead to a sack.

Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their crucial encounter at Camp Nou this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Barcelona are missing out on two key players heading into this encounter, in the form of Pedri and Ronald Araujo. But on the bright side, Sergio Aguero is tipped to make his much-awaited Barcelona debut while Ansu Fati is poised to start as well, spearheading the frontline alongside Memphis Depay.

It won’t be surprising to see Ronald Koeman shift into a back three given the quality of the opposition. The presence of the extra man in defence offers them more assurance in possession while giving more freedom to the attacking fullbacks such as Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba.

In defence, the absence of Araujo means there might be a starting opportunity for both Eric Garcia and Oscar Mingueza as they look to support Gerard Pique in a back three that will have to remain cautious and avoid any silly errors.

Sergio Busquets will play a vital role in covering the backline from the holding midfield position. But the ageing midfielder has lacked pace in recent years and that is where his midfield partner Frenkie de Jong will need to cover up. As for the offensive duties, the onus of replacing the injured Pedri may fall on the shoulders of another rising star in Gavi.

The young Spaniard has already mesmerised the onlookers with his performances for club and country recently. He will be looking to build his stock further with a strong showing against Valencia this weekend.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Garcia, Pique; Dest, de Jong, Busquets, Gavi, Alba; Fati, Depay

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Valencia

Valencia have some exciting players at their disposal and have been recently boosted by the return of Jose Gaya and Carlos Soler, two valuable players in their creative setup.

Captain Gaya, in particular, should offer much more quality in the left-back area as he looks to marshall the backline alongside Gabriel Paulista, Dimitri Foulquier and Mouctar Diakhaby, who should step in for the suspended Omar Alderete.

Pepe Bordalas’ generic 4-4-2 offers goalkeeper and ex-Barcelona man Jasper Cillessen with the support of two banks of four that usually operate in a narrow sharp. The return of Gaya should see Valencia adopt a more left sided overload, especially if Carlos Soler returns to full fitness as well and operates on the left flank.

The Spanish international offers much more work ethic and could be an excellent outlet in the second line of press for Valencia. Yunus Musah, meanwhile, should start on the opposite flank while Daniel Wass and Hugo Guillamon look set to form the double-pivot and screen the four-man backline.

In the attack, Valencia will be boosted by the return of Maxi Gomez from suspension. The Uruguayan international should act as the main target man while his attacking partner Goncalo Guedes is set to operate in a more versatile role, even shifting out wide to the right side if required, as it should Musah to cut inside and join the central midfielders.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Cillessen; Foulquier, Paulista, Diakhaby, Gaya; Musah, Wass, Guillamon, Soler; Guedes, Gomez

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Key Stats

  • Barcelona have just one of their last ten Laliga games against Valencia (W5 D4), a 2-0 defeat in January 2020 under Quique Setien and with Albert Celades as the opposition manager.
  • Valencia are the away team with the most goals at Camp Nou in Laliga since 2013/14, netting 14 goals in eight games and scoring at least twice in sox of those.
  • Barcelona have scored at least one goal in each of their previous 17 home games against Valencia in Laliga (45 goals), their second-longest run scoring at home against them (after 31 between 1939 & 1970). They are unbeaten in their last five games at Camp Nou against Los Che (W3 D2), since a 2-1 loss in April 2016.
  • After going seven games unbeaten in Laliga between May and September (W4 D3), Barcelona lost their last game in the competition (2-0 against Atletico Madrid). The last time they suffered two consecutive defeats in Laliga was in October 2020.
  • After earning 10 points out of the first 12 available in Laliga this season (W3 D1), Valencia have earned just two from the last 12 available in the competition (D2 L2).

Player to Watch

Ansu Fati

A star in the making. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Can Fati rescue Barca? (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Ansu Fati is tipped to make his first start for Barcelona since returning to full fitness. The Catalans have been in tatters during the period he was sidelined, underperforming in every competition while losing stars such as Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.

However, with Fati back into the fray, Barca do have a ray of hope, especially with other youngsters like Pedri and Gavi also rising up the ranks, helping the club built its blueprint for the future.

The winger is unquestionably the most talented of the lot, notably announcing his return to the pitch with a goal against Levante. He couldn’t make much of a difference against Atletico Madrid, but from a starting position, the Spanish international will have the opportunity to get his season up and running, as the club’s number ten looks to follow on the legacy of his predecessor.

Prediction

Barcelona 2-1 Valencia

This could prove to be a tight game as Valencia have looked a much more solid unit under Bordalas. Their opponent Barcelona are not in a great run of form either, often lacking answers going forward while looking very clumsy defensively.

But the return of Fati and potentially, Aguero, can serve as a much-needed morale booster for the Blaugrana, and combined with the added home support, we are expecting Barcelona to secure a narrow victory this weekend.

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