Valencia CF (11th, 19pts) vs FC Barcelona (4th, 34pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 17
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Marc-André ter Stegen, Gavi, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso (out)
Valencia Outs & Doubts: Gabriel Paulista, Javi Guerra (out), André Almeida, José Gayà (doubt)
Date/Time: Saturday, December 16, 2023, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Sunday)
Venue: Estadio de Mestalla, València, Spain
Referee: Miguel Ángel Ortiz Arias
VAR: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoechea
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), Sports18 (India), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following one of their most embarrassing European losses ever away to Royal Antwerp in the Champions League group stage finale on Wednesday, Barcelona return to La Liga action looking to rebound from a rough week when they travel to one of the toughest grounds in the country as they face Valencia at Mestalla on Saturday Night Fútbol.
Barça come into this one on the back of a two-game losing streak that exposed all of the issues with Xavi Hernández’s team with and without the ball, and the manager is under serious pressure as we approach the midway point of the season. Rumors of tension with management and the dressing room have created a tough atmosphere, and only impressive results and performances can help Xavi and the team get out of this crisis.
The timing couldn’t be worse ahead of a trip to Mestalla, which every Barça knows very well as one of the most brutal tests of every La Liga season regardless of how well Valencia are or aren’t playing. And right now the Bats are struggling, with just one win in their last six and a four-game winless streak filled with poor attacking displays and bad defending by Rubén Baraja’s side.
But it all changes when Valencia welcome the big boys to their stadium, and when facing Barça they are especially tough to play against. The crowd is into it from the get-go, and Valencia always find a different gear that allows them to play with more passion and intensity compared to other La Liga teams. They’ll be missing some key players due to injury and suspension, but this will still be very difficult no matter what.
This would be a brutal test even if Barça had been flying high at the top of the table, scoring goals for fun and coming off a perfect run to end to the Champions League group stage. Considering the current circumstances, this is life or death for the Catalans. They badly need three points and they badly need a good performance, but those things don’t usually come together in big pressure moments like this.
Either Barça will suffer another bad loss that maybe ends the Xavi Era or they’ll find a way to win ugly and at least feel somewhat good about themselves. A big victory with great football feels like the most remote possibility of all those available, but you never know with this beautiful game we all love.
Maybe Barça have hit rock bottom and the only way is up from here, and the road to redemption starts now. Maybe there’s yet another new low to hit, and Valencia will be ready to pounce if given the chance.
Let’s dance, I guess?
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix
Valencia (4-4-2): Mamardashvili; Correia, Mosquera, Özkacar, Gasiorowski; Foulquier, Diakhaby, Pepelu, Pérez; López, Duro
Valencia’s poor form would be good news if not for Barça’s own terrible run which makes this game virtually a toss-up when played at Mestalla. I have zero reason to trust this team and I can’t muster any optimism to predict a win in this one, so this is the best I can do: 1-1 draw and maybe a step in the right direction with the quality of performance. At this point, anything that isn’t an embarrassing defeat seems like a good thing.