For a team with an eleven points lead to the nearest competitor, FC Barcelona still looks somewhat uncomfortable recently with only two wins in the last five games. What can this contest tell us further about this? What will be the interesting key points? Find out what we think after the jump.
Valencia is fresh from their close-fought win against Deportivo last week. They have Ricardo Costa to thank for as he nodded home a header in stoppage time. Valencia’s performances this season are very inconsistent, they have huge swings as they can nick a point off Real Madrid yet they have conceded more than 4 goals in 3 matches this season against Malaga, Real Sociedad, and Real Madrid.
This season, they have played against Barcelona and lost at Camp Nou from an Adriano goal. It was a very close contest so it just leaves people wondering why they are currently at 7th place, 2 points from the Champions League spot. Since Pellegrino has been replaced with Valverde, things are looking so much better for Valencia as they have notched up 5 wins and 3 losses.
Valverde still likes the 4-2-3-1 formation as it brings the best from the duo defender Rami and Costa as they are helped by Ever Banega and Tino Costa. Banega has grown so much in his defensive midfielder position since his arrival in 2008 and will be the key person in Valencia’s transition from defense to attack. Their two wide attackers can both cut inside or cross as Valdez or Soldado both have excellent work rate to lead the attack. Guardado or Feghouli/Piatti will be extra tricky to defend against.
Looking for goals
Meanwhile, Barcelona seems to have developed (again) a very common case of being very lax in front of goals in the month of January. It’s very frustrating to watch the team create chance after chance and only managing a draw against a team that is definitely outplayed. Why is this happening? Did anything change?
The recent five game run with only two wins give a hint: Barcelona is still too dependent on Messi. David Villa and Cesc Fabregas are the club’s next top goalscorers and with 5 and 6 goals compared to Messi’s 33. Xavi and Iniesta have been playing quite well this season but the team needs another finisher who can get past their marker and finish accurately. Pedro’s work rate has been commendable but for some reason he looks as if he’s missing his scoring boots. Alexis needs a goal so immensely, more than Barcelona needs the goal and Villa looks to be the best candidate of them all right now if we’re talking about scoring consistently.
The overloading of the left flank has worked very well in the first half of the season but it hasn’t been the case last month. Alba’s crosses are suddenly more wayward than before and Messi’s run was always picked up by the large number of defense from the opposition. The direct football that was given a lot of compliments has reared its ugly head. When the ball gets too direct the opposition sees the ball more, and Barcelona is a bad team without the ball (just like Pep said).
Barcelona can use Pique once more, as he served his suspension last week. Cuenca has been loaned until the end of the season to Ajax.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas; Iniesta, Messi, Villa
Soldado is back training from the previous injury. Feghouli is back from the African Cup of Nations. Nelson Valdez picked up a knock last week but he is also getting back to match fitness.
Predicted Starting XI: Diego Alves; Rami, Costa, Cissokho, Pereira; Tino Costa, Banega, Jonas, Piatti, Guardado; Soldado
Match Preditction: Valencia CF 1-3 FC Barcelona
Image Credit: Toni Albir – EFE