It was a case of opposing fortunes for two of La Liga’s finest in Jornada 12. After watching Luis Enrique’s Barcelona steamroll Sevilla by five goals to one on Saturday night, in what was arguably their most convincing performance of the season to date, Nuno Espírito Santo’s Valencia succumbed to a stinging 2-1 derby defeat at Levante.
Valencia win 17/4
Barcelona win 57/100
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Valencia’s red hot start to the season has suffered a few hiccups in recent weeks, which surely won’t be remedied too much by the arrival of Barcelona. Losses to La Liga strugglers Deportivo (a) and Levante (a) over the last month have raised questions about their prowess for a fourth place finish, after many were already pencilling them in for it at the start of October.
But despite that, while they returned to training after the weekend round of games, buoyed by the return of Paco Alcácer and an injury-free squad (at last), playing head tennis in their shorts under the still-relatively-warm East Coast sunshine, Barcelona were busy with European responsibilities out in Nicosia. First strike to Valencia then, eh?
Not quite so fast.
For this Barcelona team has recovered a lot of ground in a short space of time, following Luis Enrique’s first ‘mini crisis’ in the Barcelona dugout. To quickly recap — a convincing loss in October’s Clásico was quickly followed by a home loss at the hands of Celta Vigo (the first since Camp Nou was built). The dogged 2-1 win at Almería after that was hardly ‘champion material’ either (to put it kindly).
But two wins in two games since escaping their ‘rut’ is not as routine as it sounds. When Gianluca Rocchi blew his whistle for the last time in Nicosia on Tuesday night, it marked the end of what has been an extraordinary few days in the life of Lionel Messi (even by his reality-defying standards). Two matches, six goals, two long-standing records met. Sorry, obliterated.
In a week where the topic of commitment to his future at Barcelona resurfaced again, Messi put forward a resounding response in the only way he knows. Against Sevilla, one goal was needed to match Telmo Zarra’s 59-year-old La Liga record of 259 goals. Messi took three for his troubles. A couple of days later in Nicosia, again, one goal was needed to match Raúl González’s Champions League record of 71 goals. He snatched another three. Club Captain Xavi Hernández spoke with simple, yet precise conviction, when he recapped it by declaring: “If Leo is happy, then Barcelona is happy.” And that he certainly is.
As well as putting the icing on Messi’s cake of football domination in Cyprus, there were plenty of other positives to take from the game for Luis Enrique and his staff. Another four goals were added to the five notched at the expense of Sevilla, Luis Suárez got off the mark for the club, Jeremy Mathieu and Neymar were completely rested, and the tempo of the game was about as favourable as Barcelona could have wished for, despite Enrique pulling out Alba, Rakitić and Suárez in the second half, just to be safe. So, stroll in the Mestalla park then?
A ‘stroll in the Mestalla park’ doesn’t exist. Valencia might have floundered a couple of times away from home, but that doesn’t apply in more familiar surroundings. Through 6 league games at home; they have won 5, drawn 1, scored 15 goals and conceded 3. Even the champions Atlético Madrid have been rolled over by Nuno Espírito Santo’s team, and you can count on one hand how many times that’s happened to Diego Simeone’s army in recent times.
Despite finding an alluring rhythm to their play at home so far, things have changed from last season off the field too. An 8th place finish last season was their worst since the 2007/08 campaign, as they missed out on qualifying for Europe for the first time in a good while. It was one to forget for the club; losing more games than they won, and conceding more goals than they scored.
But the summer brought renewed optimism on the East Coast of Spain. With Singapore billionaire Peter Lim now in the door, the cobwebs of Mestalla have been blasted off to devastating effect thus far. Attendances are back up, the songs are more frequent, louder. Fans now wait outside the ground in their thousands to welcome the team coach, as if every game is a cup final. Flares, songs, drums, raw passion. Good news for everyone but the opposition. To put it simply — facing Valencia on their own turf is an entirely different proposal to welcoming them to your place.
In regards to team news ahead of Barcelona’s arrival, Valencia will be absolutely delighted to see their captain Dani Parejo back up to speed. The 25-year-old has been the heartbeat of the team so far, while his absence over the last few weeks has had a noticeable effect. Especially in the 2-1 defeat at Levante, where his team found themselves struggling 1-0 down after 70 minutes, only for Parejo to come on and immediately strike his team back into the game. As well as the skipper, joint top scorer Paco Alcácer also resumed training this week after a hamstring injury – another man who has been so influential to Valencia’s fortunes so far, especially at home.
Barcelona may have found their most satisfying patch of form in recent weeks, as well as being the proprietors of a red hot, record-breaking maniac — but make no mistake — they are coming into the Lion’s Den on Sunday night. Lion’s that are hungry from a painful derby defeat, in a Den where even the spirit of Atlético Madrid was pulverised.
Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to win or draw is 2.27 with Intertops.eu
JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He is also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.