With both Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid playing on Sunday, Barcelona will be hoping to temporarily move three points clear at the top of the La Liga table with a win over tenth placed Valencia. The reverse fixture at the Mestalla produced a thrilling five goal first half in which Leo Messi scored his first hat-trick of the season. But the game wasn't as easy as it sounds as Hélder Postiga scored two goals in three minutes to pull Valencia back into the match meaning Victor Valdés had to produced a couple of crucial saves for Barcelona to win their third league game of the season.
A convincing midweek 5-1 win against Valencia's neighbours Levante, which saw the Catalans progress to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, will mean Barça gone into this game full of confidence. Meanwhile Valencia have gone on a run of five games without a win and conceded seven goals during that period.
A man who will be hoping to find the back of the Valencia net is Lionel Messi. The Argentine hasn't scored a league goal since last September and has turned into a provider more then a scorer in recent games. But it's only a matter of time before Messi starts scoring again and attempts to close the gap in the Pichichi table. As it stands, Messi currently lies in 15th place with 8 goals, alongside Real Madrid's Gareth Bale while Bale's Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo leads the table with 22 goals.
With as much going on behind the scenes at the club, Tata Martino will be hoping for a strong result which has the press talking about what happened on the field rather then off it.
Midfielders Xavi and Sergio Busquets return to the 18 man squad having missed the game against Levante on Wednesday. Dani Alves also returns to the squad but his Brazilian teammate Neymar isn't included despite training with the team on Friday. Club captain Carles Puyol also misses out as does Martín Montoya. Ibrahim Afellay, Isaac Cuenca, Jonatahan Dos Santos and Oier Olazábal complete the absentee list.
Victor Valdés will return in goal while Marc Bartra and Adriano are likely to be rested having played the whole game midweek. Meaning we're set to see a back four of Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves. This should set Barcelona up for a very attacking defence with both Alba and Alves pushing high. That said Alves has been in great form of late and worked the wing brilliantly against Malaga.
In midfield, Cesc Fàbregas played 70 minutes in the cup tie but is still expected to start ahead of Andrés Iniesta, who recently returned from injury. While Xavi is expected to return to the starting lineup. Fàbregas will most likely be the one making the piercing runs into the Valencia box, leaving Xavi to roam around the 40 yard line looking for a quarterback style pass. Sergi Roberto and Iniesta will also be hoping to see some minutes in the second half. In the pivote spot, Sergio Busquets will come in to replace Alex Song.
Up front, Messi will return in the false nine position, choosing which wingers will partner him will be a little less clear cut. All three of Pedro, Alexis and Tello played midweek but the youngster Tello was the only one to complete 90 minutes. Therefore I'm predicting a front three of Pedro, Messi & Alexis.
Valencia have recently recruited ex-Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita from Dalian Aerbin FC. The Malian made 119 appearances for the Catalans but will not be in the squad to face them. There have been some departures too, Dorlan Pabon, Helder Postiga and Andres Guardado have all left the club. But Valencia have reinforced their attacking options by signing Eduardo Vargas on loan from Napoli. Sergio Canales is out injured while João Pereira is suspended.
Valencia CF 2 - 3 FC Barcelona - 1st September 2013
A Victor Valdés and Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona squeezed out a tight win to keep them top of the La Liga table.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alba, Mascherano, Piqué, Alves, Busquets, Fàbregas, Xavi, Pedro, Messi, Alexis
Valencia (4-2-3-1): Alves; Mathieu, R Costa, Ruiz, Barragán, Parejo, Romeu, Feghouli, Jonas, Piatti, Vargas
While they put up a solid display in the return fixture, Valencia last won back at the start of January and I don't see them winning this one. Barcelona 3-0 Valencia.
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