PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Valencia
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The international break is over and club football is back, with FC Barcelona back in La Liga action on Sunday night (9.00pm CEST). The Camp Nou is the venue, and it’s going to be a very special night indeed.
At long last, the Government of Catalonia has lifted all attendance restrictions at outdoor sports venues... and with enormous pleasure it also means the return of the following option...
For the first time in a year and a half, there’s going to be a proper sized crowd. And they should be treated to a fabulous game against another of La Liga’s traditional ‘big’ clubs, Valencia. The last five meetings between the two have produced no fewer than 24 goals…
Last five games
Oct 2: Atlético 2-0 Barça (LIGA)
Sep 29: Benfica 3-0 Barça (UCL)
Sep 26: Barça 3-0 Levante (LIGA)
Sep 23: Cádiz 0-0 Barça (LIGA)
Sep 20: Barça 1-1 Granada (LIGA)
Oct 2: Cádiz 0-0 Valencia (LIGA)
Sep 25: Valencia 1-1 Athletic (LIGA)
Sep 22: Sevilla 3-1 Valencia (LIGA)
Sep 19: Valencia 1-2 Real Madrid (LIGA)
Sep 12: Osasuna 1-4 Valencia (LIGA)
The last time we met
Last season Barça won 3-2 at Mestalla, while the game at Camp Nou ended in a 2-2 draw.
The state of play
The league season has been heading in the wrong direction for both teams. Barça may have dropped important points but were still unbeaten until they faced Atlético Madrid in the last game before the international break. And this game is the first of three in a huge week, with a must-win fixture against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League midweek (Barça have lost their first two games) and then the Clásico against Real Madrid next weekend.
Valencia got off to a promising start under new manager José Bordalás, but they are now on a run of four games without a win. Both teams go into this game on 12 points, although Barça have a game in hand.
With neither Atlético Madrid nor Real Madrid playing this weekend, this game offers a golden opportunity to back in the top-of-the-table mix. The teams currently first and second had their fixtures postponed due to conflict with the World Cup qualifiers played South America on Thursday.
Ronald Araujo has returned from international duty for Uruguay with a hamstring injury and Pedri has also joined Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembélé in the treatment room.
But there has been positive news this week as Sergio Agüero was able to play in a midweek practice game against UE Cornellà and may even get included in the squad for this game.
Ansu Fati, meanwhile, is continuing to get back into his Matchday rhythm, although coach Ronald Koeman insists that he is still not ready to play 90 minutes of every game.
Did you know?
Valencia is the highest scoring team at Camp Nou since the 2013/14 season, 14 goals in eight games, although their only win at the stadium was 2-0 in January 2020.
What Barça need to do is take their chances. Their 13.6% shot conversion rate is currently their lowest since the 2007/08 season.
Look out for Maxi Gómez. He’s scored four goals in the last five games with Barça. With six goals in total, there is no other side that he’s scored more goals against. But the Uruguayan has only scored once so far this season.
Valencia: "It’ll be tough like any one when you’re up against Bordalás. We need to improve in defence and make home advantage count.”
Injuries: “It’s not been easy with almost all the forwards injured. But we can still compete to win the championship even though some players are still not back to their best. But they are working very hard to get there.”
Gavi: “He has taken the chances I’ve given him and also under Luis Enrique, who also likes to give opportunities to young players. You can do that as long as you get the balance right.”
Lenglet: “He’s not been playing because I haven’t picked him but he has also had fitness issues and hasn’t been able to train normally.”
Fans: “It’s going to be different. The fans have been great since they’ve been allowed back. Having them helps the team. It is important to feel supported.”
Ansu Fati: “He’s getting better by the day and tomorrow I’ll decide if we can start him, but there’s no way he’ll play three full games this week.”
Pedri: “A coach can try to make things better but he also needs the right players. That’s why it’s important to keep him here and for him to keep learning from more experienced ones.”
Dembélé: “He’s only just joined the squad in training and needs more time. I can’t say whether he’ll be ready in time for Real Madrid.”
Agüero: “He played 25 minutes of our midweek friendly. He might be in the squad but he needs to get his full fitness back and to get back into the rhythm of games. Like Ansu Fati, we know how good he is up front but we mustn’t rush him back into action too quick."
Big week: “I don’t think Wednesday’s game is the most important one. For me, the biggest game is always our next one.”
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