Luis Enrique gave a call to Barça fans to support the team in tomorrow’s complicated league fixture against Valencia at Camp Nou (Saturday 4 pm). Recognising the importance and the difficulty of the encounter, the Barça coach called for a big attendance to support the team in a tough test against a rival that has lost only once in La Liga since November.
The importance of the match for Barça is obvious. The lead at the top of La Liga was cut to two points last week which leaves no margin of error for the remaining seven league games. Valencia’s impressive form would make the challenge difficult enough in normal circumstances but the fact that the game arrives squashed between the two legs of the Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint Germain makes it even trickier.
The victory in the first leg over PSG may offer Luis Enrique the chance to reserve one or two players for Tuesday’s return game, but given the importance of the Champions League and the fact that it will be the third big game in seven games Lucho may decide he needs some fresh legs against Valencia. Claudio Bravo and Dani Alves should return to the starting XI tomorrow, while with Andrés Iniesta almost certain to be rested after taking a knock on Wednesday there could be a chance for Xavi or Rafinha in midfield, and possibly we’ll see the pair of them which would then give a break to Rakitic. It’s also worth remembering that Lucho played both Busquets and Mascherano in midfield for Barça’s last-gasp 0-1 win at Mestalla in November though this option seems less likely for a home game.
Valencia have only lost once in the league since Sergio Busquets scored Barça’s late winner that day, in a 1-0 reverse at Malaga at the start of February. In that time they have beaten both Real Madrid and Sevilla at Mestalla while on their travels they have won at Espanyol and forced draws at San Mames and El Calderón. Unlike Barça, Valencia have had all week to prepare for Camp Nou which makes Barça’s task tomorrow even harder.
If we need any more warning about the dangers of the game we only need to remember last year’s corresponding fixture when Valencia came from 1-0 behind to win 2-3. The difference last year was that Valencia were only 10th in the table before the game and not going through their best period. This year they are fourth on 65 points after 31 games and they are certainly capable of winning here again if Barça are not on top form.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Rafinha; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Valencia: Diego Alves; Barragan, Mustafi, Otamendi, Orban; Andre Gomes, Javi Fuego; Feghouli, Rodrigo, Piatti; Paco Alcacer.
My bet: correct score – Barça 3 Valencia 1 (current odds: 10.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Saturday 18 April 2015. Kick-off 4 pm local time.