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Barcelona vs Valencia, 2016 La Liga: Team News, Match Preview

David Ramos/Getty Images

FC Barcelona will be looking to return to winning ways tomorrow when they return to the safety of the Camp Nou to resume their faltering La Liga title defense against Valencia CF. The visitors are onto their third coach of the season, former assistant manager, Pako Ayestaran, and after he led Los Che to their first La Liga victory in a month last weekend against Sevilla CF, they will be hoping to extend the Blaugrana’s recent slump.

After all, there can be no doubting that the main plotline entering this match is Barcelona’s form, and how they respond to their midweek UEFA Champions League elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid. The loss at the Vicente Calderon represented Barcelona’s third loss in the past four matches, and the fourth time in their past five that they had failed to win.

In the aftermath of that defeat, we’ve seen various pundits and "experts" adding fuel to the fire; some critical of Luis Enrique, some critical of the players and some even critical of Lionel Messi. While the precise topic of their editorials has differed, the general theme has been consistent – that Barcelona are on the ropes, and that Barcelona are in crisis.

How will they regroup and defeat Valencia if they are in such blatant disarray? I mean, it’s not like we’re in the final of the Copa del Rey and atop La Liga – because the situation truly is dire isn’t it?

As per usual, there’s been a generous dose of sensationalism applied to all the post-Atleti reports – with few focusing on what was actually evident from that game. By no means would I consider myself an expert, but from my vantage point in the Vicente Calderón, I clearly witnessed a very different match from some of the other Culés and journalists.

The key takeaway from that match and indeed that tie as a whole wasn’t Barcelona’s exit – rather it was Atletico’s success, the gameplan constructed by their manager and the execution from the players. There is no side on this planet with a better record against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid than Luis Enrique’s FC Barcelona – but even so, on this particular night in Madrid, there was to be no denying the hosts.

They fought for every loose ball as if their life depended on it; they threw themselves at even the slightest hint of danger and offensively, they played with a concentration and focus that few teams could match. Given the troubles they had against SL Benfica, would you have really favoured Bayern Munich to have performed any better across those two particular matches? Likewise, would Real Madrid or Manchester City have been seen as favourites across that quarter-final?

Over the 180 minutes as a whole, Atletico Madrid were not only better than Barcelona – they were better than any given team in Spain, Germany, England or anywhere else in the world. And this notion that Barcelona have "failed" by not securing safe passage into the semi-finals when it’s highly probable that any team in the same situation would have also been eliminated… well that seems contradictory to me.

Accusations of the Blaugrana squad "not caring" or seeming disinterested in the affair are also wide of the mark. Renowned author and self-confessed Barça fan Jimmy Burns for instance claimed that the result was the by-product of a team who "played not as gladiators, but as demotivated underlings over dependent on spoilt mercenaries". Evidently, Jimmy wasn’t present at the game or if he was, he wasn’t paying enough attention.

Most notably, Lionel Messi bust a lung to sprint deep into his own half to track and challenge the dangerous run of Yannick Carrasco, possibly preventing Atleti from creating a goalscoring opportunity. Neymar too worked hard defensively, argued with every decision and almost came to blows with several Atletico players. Luis Suarez also pressed from the front, never giving up on any loose ball and let’s be honest, he even took to bending the rules in a bid to win the tie for his team.

If they’re spoilt mercenaries, they certainly have a strange way of showing their ambivalence. And all throughout the game and even beyond, the best example of how much this meant to FC Barcelona was their club captain. The usually mild-mannered Andres Iniesta broke down in tears on the bus journey back to the airport, risked suspension in a bid to slightly increase his side’s chances of staying in the tie and at times looked close to fighting with Filipe Luis as the tension increased towards the end of the game.

Make no mistake Culés, our players wanted to win. They cared about winning that match, about proving their worth once more and giving you, me and everyone else associated with the club something to cheer. They wanted to make us proud and while they came up short, to falter is to be human. To tire is to be human and even though we revere our squad as heroes – as a collection of larger than life characters and demi-Gods, they are in fact human like you and I.

To me, it’s astounding that it’s taken 115 games of the Luis Enrique era for us to be reminded of this fact – and that’s more of a cause for celebration than mourning.

Any team that plays 115 matches in about 20 months is going to falter and tire at some stage – and we aren’t witnessing a team in crisis, or a team that’s lost its motivation. All we’re witnessing is a team that in this particular stretch of games, has been a little fatigued. Mentally, physically; they’ve been just a fraction off and that’s all it takes to be punished against opposition as excellent as Atletico and Real Madrid, or indeed away from home at tough venue like the Anoeta.

So, returning to home and perhaps facing a somewhat lesser opposition, Barcelona shouldn’t have as many problems as they did in midweek. But what they need more than anything else is support. The solitary win we have managed in this stretch is testament to that. Atletico’s performance on Wednesday is testament to that.

I think the Calderón summarised it best:

atleti tifo

Juntos hacia la victoria



For more on our projected line-up for tomorrow’s match, check out Renato’s predicted line-up and keep your eyes peeled for the official squad list, which will bring you tomorrow morning.


Despite being a relative novice, new head coach Pako Ayestaran is optimistic of his side’s chances this weekend, claiming that he does not fear FC Barcelona – even though Valencia’s last visit to the Camp Nou ended in a 7-0 drubbing. The visitors already entered the match without the services of Denis Cheryshev and Zakaria Bakkali – but Pako has also chosen to leave Sofiane Feghouli and Pablo Piatti out of the squad, as he seems to settle into his new role as Los Che coach.


Barcelona: WDLWLL

Valencia: LLWLLW


Valencia CF 1-1 FC Barcelona – 10th February 2016 – Copa del Rey

After a crushing defeat in the first-leg, it looked like Valencia might exact some revenge in the return at the Mestalla, but a late equaliser from Wilfrid Kaptoum ensured Barcelona’s unbeaten streak survived another week.


Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Vidal, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Mascherano, Roberto, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Valencia (4-2-3-1): Alves; Barragan, Mustafi, Abdennour, Gaya; Fuego, Gomes; Mina, Parejo, Rodrigo; Alcacer


Look for us to bounce back from the Atleti disappointment with a vengeance. 3-1 to the home team.

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