Following a tough Champions League draw against Juventus in midweek, Barcelona return to action in La Liga to play what is without a doubt the toughest test of the season so far for the league leaders.
Barça travel to the Mestalla on Sunday night to face Valencia. And although Barça are the leaders with 11 wins and no losses from their first 12 games, there is absolutely no question that Valencia are the best team in La Liga this season. The Bats have played stunning football under new manager Marcelino Toral García, who quickly turned them from a laughing stock into the powerhouse.
They’re built to defend well and simply destroy teams on the counter, but they can also pass the ball if necessary and score goals for fun. They’re also unbeaten and are currently on an eight-game winning streak, the second best in the Top 5 European leagues behind Manchester City.
Marcelino will not be on the sideline for this game due to a two-match ban after he was sent off against Espanyol last week, but his team will surely be very well prepared to face Barça. Marcelino never beat Barça as manager and lost 11 of his 14 meetings with the Blaugrana, but given the form of Valencia and the strange state of Barça under Ernesto Valverde, this could definitely be the first win for Marcelino, a huge statement for Valencia and a really worrying result for the Catalans.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Sunday, November 26, 2017, 8:45pm (Barcelona & Nigeria), 7:45pm GMT (UK), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 1:15am IST (India, Monday)
Venue: Estadio de Mestalla, València, Spain
Television: beIN SPORTS En Español (USA & Canada - Spanish), Sky Sports Football (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA & Canada), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
Valverde surprised a lot of us by benching Lionel Messi against Juventus and only bringing him on after 55 minutes, but the performance wasn’t surprising. Barça once again were very ordinary, playing well enough to get the result they needed but not well enough to excite fans. Barça are unbeaten for more than three months but they haven’t playing well more than three times, and there’s always the worry that they’ll be figured out by a really good team that’ll expose their flaws.
Many expect that team to be Valencia, but if Barça can slow down such an explosive attack and find a way to score multiple goals against such a good defense, then Valverde deserves a little credit, right? He won’t be given that, but a win at Mestalla, which is a historically tough stadium for Barça, will show that this team is not a fluke. At least until the next game against a big team that will finally expose them, AMIRITE?
In terms of the starting lineup, there are two real doubts: who will start in the place of Gerard Piqué? The favorite is Thomas Vermaelen, though Lucas Digne can also play as a center-back and could be a surprise choice from Valverde. The other question is whether or not Paco Alcácer starts alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, and recent history suggests that Paulinho will be in the team and the 4-4-2 formation away from home will be chosen once again.
But you know what? I think Valverde really likes what Paco has done in recent games and will give him a go here. I’m of course wrong, but maybe I’m right!
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Umtiti, Vermaelen, Alba; Alcácer, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez
Neto; Montoya, Gabriel, Garay, Gayà; Soler, Parejo, Kondogbia, Guedes; Rodrigo, Zaza
I am REALLY nervous about this one, but I’ve decided to trust my Barça: 2-1 to the visitors.