Valencia CF (12th, 30pts) vs FC Barcelona (6th, 39pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Saturday
Competition/Round: 2021-22 La Liga, Matchday 25
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves, Memphis Depay, Clément Lenglet, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti, Alejandro Balde (out)
Valencia Outs & Doubts: Jasper Cillessen, Thierry Correia (out), Gabriel Paulista (doubt)
Date/Time: Sunday, February 20, 2022, 4.15pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 3.15pm GMT (UK), 10.15am ET, 7.15am PT (USA), 8.45pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadio de Mestalla, València, Spain
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande
VAR: José María Sánchez Martínez
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA), TSN 2 (Canada), LaLigaTV (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), MTV (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought draw against Napoli in their Europa League debut on Thursday, Barcelona have no time to rest and are right back on the road for one of the toughest games in the La Liga calendar away to Valencia at Mestalla.
The result against Napoli did not tell the full story, and it was certainly one of the best performances of the season from Xavi’s men considering the quality of the opposition and the level of attacking play that Barça showed all night in midweek. Playing that well consistently is still the challenge for this team, but they continue to take positive steps and look stronger and stronger ahead of the home stretch.
Barça’s European destiny will be decided in Naples next Thursday, but the Top 4 remains the priority and the results from earlier this week have helped Barça. They control their fate again this weekend and will stay in fourth place with a win at Mestalla, but that won’t be easy to achieve.
Playing away to Valencia is always a brutal challenge no matter who the coach or how good the team is. Even Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique had a very tough time against one of the best crowds in Europe, and it shouldn’t be different for Xavi’s troops in this one. That remains the case despite Valencia’s form: Los Che are yet to win a league game in 2022 and have lost four of their last six.
But digging deeper into those stats tells a simple story: José Bordalás’ side have faced the best teams in the league during that period, a brutal schedule that included consecutive games against Real Madrid, Sevilla, Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad. They’ve had to face all those challenges while dealing with constant absences due to Covid and injuries, and still managed to be very competitive in all of those games.
Bordalás is an expert at frustrating Barça and is expected to field a very defensive lineup to deny spaces and try to hit the Blaugrana on the counter. Expecting Barça to score three or four goals is unrealistic, and the visitors will need to be patient and ruthless in front of goal. They cannot afford to miss the same chances they did against Napoli, because those will be hard to come by against Valencia.
This will be very tough, and if Barça get all three points we will surely look back at this as one of the most important wins of the season if the Catalans acheive their Champions League goal.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Eric, Alba; F. De Jong, Busquets, Gavi; Adama, Ferran, Dembélé
Valencia (4-4-2): Mamardashvili; Foulquier, Diakhaby, Alderete, Gayà; Soler, Guillamón, Moriba, Gil; Guedes, Duro
Valencia’s form is mostly down to their schedule, not their level of play. This is still a brutal team to play against, and Mestalla is never kind to Barça. But I’ll still back the good guys in this one: 2-0 Barça, and once again I’m predicting we’ll see Aubameyang’s first goal. I hope to be right this time.