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After abruptly running aground in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night and waving goodbye as their lofty dream of a treble repeat sunk into the depths of the continental abyss, FC Barcelona’s first chance to right the ship comes against Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday night, when they will look to leave rough seas in their wake and cast aside a three-game La Liga winless streak while seeking to maintain daylight between themselves and their pursuers.
Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid may still be afloat in European play, but Barça lead both of them in the Spanish First Division and are determined to salvage the season and resurface with the two pieces of hardware still within their grasp — the La Liga trophy and the Copa del Rey.
And on Sunday Barça can take a giant stride towards hoisting the former with a win over Valencia, currently treading water in the bottom half of the league table.
FC Barcelona trained on Thursday and Saturday — with a rest day in between — to map out their approach for this weekend’s visit from Los Che, as Valencia are known. Luis Enrique announced his 18-man squad for the match on Sunday morning, which sees Arda Turan missing through suspension, while Rafinha, Sandro, Vermaelen and Mathieu are injured.
Barça skipper Luis Enrique Martínez will be tasked with getting his players refocused for the home stretch of league play after the enormously frustrating letdown suffered mid-week on the banks of the Manzanares River.
“We have to forget the past. It won’t be easy, and we are going to need the fans’ support more than ever. It’s at difficult times like these that we need them most,” he told reporters at the Ciutat Esportiva in his weekly press conference.
Valencia head coach Pako Ayestaran held his pre-game press conference on Friday, calling Sunday’s match against Barça “an opportunity,” while also outlining his team’s basic approach to the game. “We'll try to make sure that their possession is not so high, but we know that we will spend a long time without the ball and we have to know how to manage those moments,” he said.
Two wins and two losses sandwich a single draw for FC Barcelona in their last five league clashes, yet they have not won since cruising to a 6–0 romp over Getafe at Camp Nou on 12 March. A draw at Villarreal and back-to-back defeats to Real Madrid — at home — and at Real Sociedad have turned what had been a healthy lead atop the table into an all too tenuous one.
Valencia, however, are coming off an impressive 2–1 home win over Sevilla last weekend, an effort that put the brakes on their own four-game skid.
In the first meeting this season between the two sides, they played to a 1–1 stalemate at the Mestalla on 5 December when Santi Mina notched a late goal to deny Barça the win.
Barça have won seven of their last eight La Liga clashes with Valencia at Camp Nou — including five shutouts — with the lone blemish over that span coming in a 3–2 Valencia win in Week 22 of the 2013/14 season.
Curiously, when Barça beat Valencia 2–0 at Camp Nou last season, Lionel Messi scored his 400th career blaugrana goal on the final play of the game. The Argentine will have a chance to reach the 450 mark against Valencia on Sunday.
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