Carlo Ancelotti’s World Champions primed for tricky Mestalla trip

Jesé scored the winner for Real Madrid in last season's corresponding fixture

Jesé scored the winner for Real Madrid in last season’s corresponding fixture

As is customary in Spain, the winter break allowed a brief cooling-off period for all twenty La Liga teams. But it’s now back to full throttle for a select few. While fellow top four clubs Atlético Madrid and Barcelona resume with games against bottom half clubs in the form of Levante and Real Sociedad respectively, the resumption of play in the Primera División looks a little less comfortable for Valencia and Real Madrid.

Valencia v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Real Madrid win 53/100

Draw 16/5

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

The pair are set to clash at Mestalla on Sunday evening, in what looks sure to represent matchday 17’s tastiest fixture. Carlo Ancelotti’s side haven’t faced a top four team on the road this season in La Liga – and with their 22 game winning streak on the line once more, victory at one of the toughest grounds in Spain would send another devastating statement of intent for Los Blancos. On the other hand, a Valencia team who have dwindled a little in recent months need no better motivation than a victory over the untouchables from the capital as they prepare for a renewed Champions League push in 2015.

Many have been scanning Madrid’s upcoming schedule for games that could prove a little more problematic for the European Champions, and there aren’t many that rival this one. Although Valencia’s early season form hasn’t been quite been as well maintained through the winter months, their exploits on Mestalla soil very much have. Despite taking a relatively disappointing 12 points from a possible 24 since the beginning of November, their home form remains impressive. Visits from Barcelona, Athletic Club and champions Atlético Madrid among others have seen their defence surrender just 4 goals in 8 games, while a 3-1 win over the latter in October shows exactly what they are capable of on their day.

Another factor likely to be putting fire in the bellies of those associated with Valencia, is the contrasting nature of their winter break. By the time the game comes around, the home side will have had 18 days of rest and preparation time ahead of the game – about as good a time as any to welcome the European Champions if you’re Nuno Espírito Santo. And if the Valencia boss wasn’t already satisfied with the favourable circumstances of the schedule, he’ll have enjoyed receiving the news that Real Madrid had some air miles to clock up during that time. Their opponents arrived in Morocco on December 14th for the Club World Cup, with games against Cruz Azul on the 16th and in the final against San Lorenzo on the 20th. From there, they had time for a short breather, before then setting off for Dubai on the 29th for a friendly against AC Milan. A game which Ancelotti later referred to as little more than a nuisance when he assured their surprise 4-2 loss “didn’t hurt at all”.

Of course, Los Blancos’ fate isn’t already sealed for their Mestalla trip. Madrid’s winter break wasn’t all a nuisance by any means. They picked up their fourth trophy of 2014 with their Club World Cup triumph over San Lorenzo, which officially (but rather unofficially) makes them the best team in the world right now. The defeat against Milan will have been forgotten by the time they boarded the plane, in what represented more of a ‘fatigue-preserving’ fixture, rather than a ‘competitive’ one. As far as Ancelotti was concerned, his team’s winter break objectives were signed and sealed back in Morocco. The Italian will assumedly remain as happy as a manager could be, and a friendly defeat matters little to him. When the lights are on and it’s time to compete, his team have decimated nearly all that have stood in their way. But taking on a well-rested (to say the least) Valencia, who have spent over two weeks transfixed on the task in hand, is a fresh challenge that should be well considered. A game far removed from the environment in which they took on Milan in Dubai – one in which even Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid team were humbled. If anyone is going to halt the European Champions in the league, few look to have a better chance than Valencia on home turf.

Spotting chinks in the armour will have become a leading pastime for La Liga bosses up and down the country in recent months, and Real Madrid’s opposition have had a generous amount of time to achieve that. An 18-day break is a lifetime in the midst of a league campaign, and assuming Nuno Espírito Santo has fine-tooth combed his preparation during that time, his team are in line for the next shot at the king. A shot that, even with the best intentions and the best preparation, might produce a few gulps on the Mestalla terraces come kick-off time.

Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to avoid defeat is 2.33 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

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Messi and Suárez face tough trip to Mestalla to take on Valencia

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

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 v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Barcelona win 57/100

Draw 3/1

(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?

Hold.

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 k avatar 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.

Who’ll reach the Europa League Final this evening?

Ezequiel Garay celebrates opening the scoring in Benfica's 2-1 win over Juventus in the first leg

Ezequiel Garay celebrates opening the scoring in Benfica’s 2-1 win over Juventus in the first leg

After two fantastic semi final second leg matches over the last two evenings in the Champions League where a Madrid Derby between Atlético and Real was set up thanks to 4-0 and 3-1 away wins at Bayern Munich and Chelsea respectively, this evening sees the turn of the Europa League. As things stand, it is looking as if two further Iberian sides will contest the Europa League Final at the Juventus Stadium on May 14 with Benfica and Sevilla leading Juventus and Valencia. Will it be all change in the Europa League Semi Final Second Leg matches?

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Juventus v Benfica:

Juventus – 1.56

Draw – 3.95

Benfica – 5.60

Despite the fact that Benfica hold a 2-1 advantage coming into this second leg clash of their Europa League semi final, looking at the odds for the game it is clear that GR88.com are favouring a resurgence from the side that all but tied up the Italian Serie A with a bounce back victory over Sassuolo to leave them eight points clear with three games to play. The reason for this is the outstanding home form shown by Juventus this season as they have won 22 and drawn three of their 25 matches at the Juventus Stadium and with the final happening here in less than two weeks time you can be sure that they will want to be a part of it in their hometown.

Juventus have conceded zero or one goal in 16 of their last 17 home matches and a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in this competition is the only time they have failed to win in this run of 17 games too. They will be confident, but the current Portuguese champions are in excellent form too and they are aiming for a domestic and European quadruple this season. They already have claimed the league title and their penalty shootout win over Porto at the weekend saw them book their second domestic final appearance for this season, now all they need to do is avoid defeat tonight to ensure their progress.

They bring four clean sheets in a row on the road in all competitions into tonight’s game and they have eight shutouts in 11 away matches. With them needing to keep things tight at the back, with Juventus’ away goal seeing them able to progress with a 1-0 win, I expect this to be a tight and gritty game with few goals.

Back -2.5 goals in the Juventus v Benfica game tonight @ 1.85 with GR88.com.

Valencia v Sevilla:

Valencia – 2.14

Draw – 3.50

Sevilla – 3.00

This all Spanish clash will ensure that there will be a third team from La Primera Liga contesting a European final this season in conjunction with the two Madrid teams, and with Sevilla hitting form at the end of the season as well as holding a 2-0 lead over their compatriots it is they who are looking like progressing to the final this evening.

Neither of these two sides claimed victory at the weekend with Valencia suffering a 1-0 loss to league leaders Atlético Madrid and Sevilla beaten 3-1 away at Athletic Bilbao. Both teams have had struggles of late, with Valencia losing two of their last four at home – although these two losses are their only home defeats in 13 matches in 2014 – while Sevilla have suffered three losses in four away from home.

I feel that this match will be another close game, just like the Juventus v Benfica clash, but with them two goals behind Valencia will be the more attacking team of the two tonight and with their excellent home record this year I can see them just edging this match tonight/.

Back Valencia to beat Sevilla in their Europa League Semi Final Second Leg tonight @ 2.14 in the GR88 Sportsbook!

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Barcelona v Valencia: They played for both

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

On Saturday evening Barcelona will look to maintain their grip on La Liga’s top spot when Valencia visit the Camp Nou.

It was not so long ago that Los Ches were among Spain’s elite, dining at the same table as both Barça and Real Madrid.

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side may currently sit 10th in the standings, but they still possess players that could potentially trouble what has not always been a water-tight Barca rearguard.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct has picked out five of the great talents who have played for both clubs.

 

Barcelona v Valencia Betting Odds

Barcelona to win – 1.13

Draw – 9.00

Valencia to win – 23.00

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Jordi Alba

Having honed his potential at Barça’s famous La Masia academy, full-back Alba was released as a youngster in 2005. He eventually found his way south to Valencia, for whom he made his debut in 2009. It was there where his rampaging runs down the left flank attracted the attention of Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, who included him in his squad for the 2012 European Championships.

With Barca looking for a long-term replacement for veteran defensive mainstay Eric Abidal, they turned to Alba, seven years after they had dispensed with his services. Still only 24, he went on to score five goals in all competitions as Barca regained the La Liga title during his first campaign as a senior player with the club.

David Villa

‘The Kid’ found goals relatively easily to come by with Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza, but it was the 2005 switch to Valencia that really saw his stock start to rise. He would go on to form a near telepathic understanding with David Silva and Juan Mata and it was that trio that helped Valencia topple Barça en route to success in the 2008 Copa del Rey.

By 2010, Pep Guardiola needed a new attacker. Thierry Henry was heading for New York, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi. Guardiola wanted a player that would sacrifice himself for the team and Messi – an offer which Villa duly accepted. He won eight trophies during his three-year spell with Barça, but he found it difficult to rediscover his touch after suffering a broken leg in a Club World Cup clash in December 2011. Last summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid, and his 10 league goals this season have helped Diego Simeone’s side mount a serious title challenge.

Gaizka Mendieta

Having risen through the ranks at the Mestalla, Mendieta was regarded as Valencia’s blue-eyed boy. Indeed, having forged himself a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder, the Spanish international was a key cog as Valencia won the Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and reached two Champions League finals in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

Such form earned him a big-money switch to Lazio, who were seeking a replacement for Manchester United-bound Juan Sebastian Veron, in 2001. One year was enough in Italy, though, and he returned to Spain 12 months later on a loan basis with Barça. Despite being a regular with the Catalans, their sixth-placed finish meant that Blaugrana could not afford to fund a permanent return and he eventually ended up joining Middlesbrough on loan.

Patrick Kluivert

Following goal-laden spells with Ajax and AC Milan, Kluivert was reunited with his former mentor Louis van Gaal at Barcelona in 1998. Forming an instantly profitable partnership with Rivaldo, the pair fired their side to the La Liga title. However, despite 120 goals for the club in 255 outings, that would be only the trophy that he lifted before he was released and headed for Newcastle United in 2004.

The spell on Tyneside lasted just one year, with a return to Spain and Valencia sealed in 2005. Fitness, weight and attitude problems were all said to have contributed to an unsuccessful time with the club, scoring just the one goal prior to his departure in 2006.

Oriol Romeu

To feature regularly in Barça’s midfield, you have to possess an extraordinary talent. Romeu, who arrived at La Masia in 2004, would, in time, discover that. Initially it appeared that he could force his way into Guardiola’s thinking when he was included in the squad for the 2009 Club World Cup, but he would ultimately make just two senior appearances in a red and blue shirt.

Chelsea came calling in 2011, but after a positive start to life at Stamford Bridge, a knee injury limited his playing time. Last summer he was loaned out to Valencia and despite suffering further injuries, he has impressed during his 13 outings.

Betting Instinct Tip Barcelona to repeat last year’s 1-0 home win is 8.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

liam_avatar   LIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.