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Luis Enrique’s team travel to Valencia on Saturday (kick off 8.30pm CET) to take on a side whose recent inconsistent form led to the resignation of coach Nuno Santo this week and the arrival of Manchester United legend Gary Neville as his replacement.
The former top TV pundit is reunited with his brother Phil Neville who has held the post of assistant coach since the summer and who will take the reins alongside Salvador González Marco ‘Voro’, the caretaker boss for the visit of league leaders Barça, with Gary watching from the stands. Mestalla is never an easy ground to visit but this is as good a time as any for the Catalans as they come into the game having won their last eight matches in all competitions.
Barça trained for the last time on Friday ahead of this weekend’s away fixture and immediately afterwards coach Luis Enrique named an 18 man squad that included goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, fully recovered from a knee problem that had kept him out of the Copa del Rey victory in midweek against Villanovense. Jérémy Mathieu picked up an injury in that game and misses out alongside Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Douglas. However, there is a place in the list for B team midfielder Sergi Samper. The full squad is as follows: Bravo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Dani Alves, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Mascherano, Bartra, Munir, Jordi Alba, Sandro, Adriano, Vermaelen and Samper.
Valencia have a whole host of selection issues with no less than 10 players missing. Negredo, Orbán, André Gomes, Feghouli, Barragán, Alves, Rodrigo and Mustafi are all out due to injury whilst Joao Cancelo and Javi Fuego miss out due to suspension following their red cards in last week’s 1-0 defeat against Sevilla at the Sánchez Pizjuán.
Barça boss Luis Enrique in his pre-game press conference highlighted the problems of coming up against a team under new leadership: “We are facing a team that has just changed its manager, and that complicates things for us … We’ve studied our opponent, but the change of manager could mean a change to their style too. So it’s a difficult match to plan”.
With the trio of Messi, Neymar and Suárez almost breaking records on a daily basis, the coach tried to put their performances in context: “I think Suarez, Messi and Neymar form the best attacking threesome in Barça history. And probably of all time. I don’t really know enough about football history to truly be able to say, but I don’t think anyone has managed to do better than they have. They are three top, top level players”.
Valencia caretaker boss ‘Voro’ appeared before the press on Friday also, making it clear he was aware of the task facing his team against a Barça who ‘have a great team and brilliant players.’ With injury and suspension having decimated his squad, the former Valencia player admitted, “despite the amount of players we have missing, we will give our best with the help of the crowd.”
Barça have won eight on the bounce in all competitions, scoring 32 goals and conceding just four times during that run. Luis Enrique’s team have scored 33 goals in the league alone so far this season, more than anyone else, but in Valencia they are up against a team who have conceded just twice in Mestalla in three draws and three wins in the league in front of their own fans.
Despite their unbeaten home record, los che are currently only in ninth place in the table on 19 points, some 14 behind leaders Barça. The 1-0 defeat last weekend at Sevilla led to the departure of coach Nuno Santo, however, the team did bounce back in midweek to win 3-1 away at lower league Barakaldo in the Copa del Rey.
Last season Barça won 1-0 at Mestalla in the league thanks to Sergio Busquets’ injury time strike. The Catalans are unbeaten on their last seven visits to Mestalla in the league, winning three times and taking home a point on four occasions. Valencia are unbeaten in 18 league games at home but the last time they beat Barça in the league came with a 2-1 victory way back in 2007.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of the encounter.
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