FC Barcelona travel to the Mestalla tomorrow as the Blaugrana attempt to build on their midweek Supercopa de España success by maintaining their 100% La Liga record against Valencia CF. Barça are without a win in their last three trips to the Mestalla, but are also unbeaten in their last 13 fixtures with Los Che; and who would bet against them extending that run tomorrow? While Gerardo Martino’s side appear to be far from their best, Valencia are on something of a downward spiral – following the departure of top-scorer Roberto Soldado, Valencia lack a real "star name" in their squad, and are yet to impress under the guidance of new coach Miroslav Djukic.
In the aftermath of last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Espanyol, Djukic publicly laid into his players, admitting that he was "ashamed" of the result and indeed the performance as a whole. The former Valladolid boss also criticised Valencia’s lack of intensity – hardly ideal preparation for a tough match against the reigning La Liga champions.
With both Lionel Messi and Adriano back in the squad following injury, Martino has a strong squad at his disposal – so strong in fact that he’s opted to leave ever-presents Xavi and Alexis Sánchez in Barcelona. The Argentine was tipped to rotate the squad much more than his predecessor Tito Vilanova, and he doesn’t look like he’s going to disappoint on that front – although time will tell whether "Tata’s" early rotation pays dividends, results-wise.
Xavi and Alexis Sánchez have been deliberately left out of the squad, while Adriano and Lionel Messi return to the La Liga fold after spells on the sideline through injury. Other than that, Barcelona travel to the Mestalla with the same squad that competed against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, and while Martino’s policy to rest both Sánchez and Xavi suggests that we might see some full-scale rotation from the Blaugrana, I’m expecting a similar starting line-up to the team that drew with Atleti in midweek.
Victor Valdés will start in goal having claimed the last two Barça Blaugranes Community Man of the Match Awards, as well as two consecutive clean sheets. In fact, Valdés has conceded just once in his opening four matches under Martino – maybe our defense wasn’t that bad after all? We should be weary of jumping to conclusions too early in the season, but our recent form certainly suggests that we’re at least turning a corner – and that Valdés should arguably start for the Spanish National Team, ahead of Real Madrid bench-warmer Iker Casillas. Maybe a third successive clean sheet could secure that starting berth...
Martin Montoya may challenge for a starting place on the right-hand side of defense if Martino is indeed intending to rest the majority of his "ever-presents", although one suspects that Dani Alves will continue at right-back – while Jordi Alba is also expected to start at left-back against his former club. That means that the returning Adriano will likely have to settle for a place on the bench, while Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano continue their impressive partnership in the centre of defense.
Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fàbregas are tipped to retain their starting places tomorrow as well, with Andrés Iniesta favourite to replace Xavi, although Fàbregas and/or Iniesta may face competition from young Sergi Roberto, or even Jonathan dos Santos. Roberto was treated to his first taste of action in this season’s La Liga last weekend, and it’s perhaps more likely that he will continue off the bench – building up to a first start, possibly against Rayo Vallecano in a few week’s time.
In attack, Lionel Messi should return to the starting line-up and it’s possible that he will be joined by Neymar, who made his first official start in midweek against Atletico Madrid. Pedro should start on the right-hand side regardless of whether Messi and Neymar start together, while Cristian Tello has an outside chance at a rare start, just as long as Martino relegates Neymar to the bench once again.
New signing Dorlan Pabon has made the cut to take his place in Miroslav Djukic’s 18-man squad, and the Colombian centre-forward could even start behind Helder Postiga in the Valencia attack. Other than that, Djukic is expected to name a similar side to the one that started last weekend against Espanyol, hoping that his public criticism will inspire them to a better performance against Catalunya’s other team.
Valencia CF 1-1 FC Barcelona – 3rd February 2013 – La Liga
Los Che took the lead at the Mestalla through Ever Banega’s 33rd minute goal, but the Blaugrana hit back to secure a point courtesy of Lionel Messi’s 39th minute penalty.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar
Valencia (4-2-3-1): Alves; Pereira, Rami, Costa, Bernat; Banega, Fuego; Feghouli, Pabon, Michel; Postiga
I’m backing the Blaugrana to recover their goal-scoring touch tomorrow, and put a couple past Valencia in front of their own crowd. 2-0 Barça.
More from Barca Blaugranes:
- Segunda División: FC Barcelona B 1-0 Real Zaragoza: Match Review
- FC Barcelona News: 31 August 2013; Xavi and Alexis Rested Against Valencia, 12 Players Called Up by National Teams
- Supercopa de España: FC Barcelona 0-0 Atletico Madrid: Player Ratings
- UEFA Super Cup: Bayern Munich vs Chelsea FC: Live Open Thread
- FC Barcelona News: 30 August 2013; Barça Drawn With Milan, Ajax and Celtic Into Group H, Xavi Sets Record