Second-placed Barça face fourth-placed Valencia at Mestalla tomorrow evening (Sunday 9 pm) in what could be a vital week in the battle for La Liga. Leaders Real Madrid maintain a two-point advantage at the top of the table but Ancelotti’s men have a tricky game at Malaga today. Whatever Madrid do at Malaga Barça need to take all three points tomorrow to keep up the pressure.
There has been a big improvement in Barça’s last two games with Leo Messi returning to his best with his record-breaking hat-tricks. The pressing game has improved in intensity and with Luis Suarez fitting in well either at centre-forward or playing on the right there is a renewed optimism at Camp Nou.
There was of course some bad news this week with the confirmation that Thomas Vermaelen will undergo surgery next week on his hamstring injury meaning he may miss the rest of the season. There was better news today, however, with Andrés Iniesta receiving medical clearance, but we won’t know until Luis Enrique names his squad list tomorrow morning whether the midfielder will be included for the trip down the coast.
There will almost certainly be changes to the team that beat Apoel 0-4 in the Champions League on Tuesday with Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu, Sergio Busquets, Neymar and probably Xavi ready to return to the starting line-up. With the likelihood that Luis Enrique will play a second-string team for Barça’s following game in the Copa del Rey at Huesca on Wednesday, tomorrow we should see Barça’s strongest available team which could be formed by Bravo, Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Rakitic, Suarez, Messi and Neymar.
Valencia are coached this year by the splendidly named Nuno Espirito Santo. The 40-year-old Portuguese had only previously coached at the modest Portuguese team Rio Ave but after taking them to the Portuguese cup final he was signed by Valencia in July 2014. He is proving to be a shrewd choice and Valencia, with new owner Peter Lim, are looking refreshed and ready to return to being a real force.
Los Ché are looking particularly strong at Mestalla this season where they began with five straight victories in La Liga, scoring three goals in each game against Malaga, Espanyol, Cordoba, Atlético and Elche. The run came to an end in the 0-0 draw with Athletic Club on November 9 but Valencia are still unbeaten at home and Barça will need to be on top form to win tomorrow.
Valencia haven’t won the corresponding fixture since a 2-1 victory on 18 February 2007 when Ronaldinho scored the Barça goal. Since then there have been four draws and three Barça victories, 0-3 in 2007/08, 0-1 in 2010/11 and last season’s 2-3 win with a first-half hat-trick from Messi. Scoring goals is so routine for the Argentinian that I wouldn’t bet against him grabbing another three goals tomorrow to complete his extraordinary record-breaking week with a hat-trick of hat-tricks.
Valencia: Diego Alves; Barragan, Mustafi, Otamendi, Orban; Dani Parejo, Javi Fuego, Andre Gomes; Feghouli, Negredo, Rodrigo.
Barça: Bravo; Dani Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Rakitic; Suarez, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Valencia 1 Barça 3
Date: Sunday 30 November 2014. Kick-off: 9 pm local time.