The Camp Nou welcomes Valencia for the third time in just over 1 week tomorrow night 21:30 local time. This will be our 14th match in a mere 7 weeks, and thankfully the team will have a chance to recover without a midweek encounter. Emery has yet to triumph in the Camp Nou, but there is little arguing the fact Valencia have given us the toughest games of the season, particularly the 2-2 draw in September. It certainly won’t be easy tomorrow.
There has been a great deal of media related to Pep Guardiola this week, specifically his future. As we all know, Pep only resigns for 1 year, renewing each year around January/February if he believes he is still the man to take this club forward. On one side, I think it’s quite a powerful tool. It keeps Rossell on his toes, as well as the players. I think his rationale is that the players are more motivated to do well in attempts to keep him. On the other side, it pains me to think of the time Pep will leave, but I certainly do not see it happening yet. He hasn’t hidden the fact he believes he cannot do this gig forever, firstly due to the personal stress he endures, and secondly as he may have ambitions to try his abilities elsewhere. But with Madrid most likely to trump us this season, surely that is motivation enough to return. Furthermore, I believe he won’t be satisfied with what he has gotten out of this years squad, likely our most talented yet. The players certainly want him to continue, voicing those sentiments this week, but Pep asked for time and some space this afternoon for him to decide. From early on in his tenure, I imagined a Sir Alex type situation, as times has gone on, it seems that won’t be the case, yet I still harbor some belief it will. But for now, I don’t see Pep leaving this year.
In any case, he isn’t off before Valencia and there are some key tactical decisions to make, and right now as I’m writing this, I imagine Pep in his video rooming analyzing the options. Mascherano is unavailable tonight because he was sent off in Osasuna. If you’re scratching your head trying to remember when, stop, because it happened post game in the tunnel as he pestered the referee on his inconsistent performance. So no Mascherano, our best defender this term, and also no Dani Alves, both suspended. Piqué will certainly return, and with something to prove I suspect. The biggest decision is who will play on the right. Valencia’s key weapon is the left sided duo of Alba and Mathieu, who bomb forward with tricks and speed a plenty. Back in September, Pep tried the 3-4-3 for one of the first times, and poor Masch being given that right-sided role was ripped apart. Likely having learnt, I rate we will start with a standard 4 defenders, with Puyol the logical option. Abidal can join Piqué in the middle, and Adriano on the left. But, Pep is brave and deeply confident in his team, so maybe we will see only a three back, with Busquets instructed to drop deep that little bit extra.
Xavi is not 100% fit, despite assuring fans his injury isn’t too worry about. I reckon he will start, along with Iniesta, Fàbregas, Alexis, and of course Messi, who will play his 200th official match since his debut on October 16, 2004. That leaves one spot open upfront. Despite his form, I see Pedro starting, but he well knows Pep isn’t afraid to send in Cuenca if Pedrito continues to show his lack of touch.
Valencia are only missing the excellent Banega, but otherwise Emery has named 21 for the game. Not one to tinker too much, it should be a rather standard Valencia line up with Alves, Miguel, Ruiz, Rami, Alba, Feghouli, Albelda, Costa, Mathieu, Jonas, and Soldado. There may be a place for either Topal or Costa in that starting 11, but I don’t think it will be too different. One factor to consider is that los Ches had a tough match Thursday night at the Brittania against Stoke, so for once we may have a tiny advantage in terms of freshness.
Messi made a comment post Leverkusen that they “changed the chip” that evening, which has been taken by many that the team was more focused in that competition over the league. On one side, Sid Lowe made some insightful comment on the difficulty to motivate with the goal so far away. But in a personal capacity, I still don’t believe the team has given up, nor that they have displayed that notion. Pep has instilled a winning obsession as well as great pride in a personal and team sense, which I expect to see again tomorrow. I’m not one to predict, but I sense a good victory tomorrow.