With both teams trying to get over some sort of Real Madrid hangover, it’s going to be interesting to see if Valencia, in a disappointing season, can be the team that puts another dent in the nearly perfect run Barcelona have put together so far this season.
Both teams are about looking ahead: Valencia played Real Madrid three times in a week, losing twice, drawing once, got knocked out of the cup and finished with a 1-8 score line. They followed that up with a dramatic win in Northwest Spain against Deportivo, beating them 3-2 with a 90th minute goal by Ricardo Costa.
Ernesto Valverde has returned to Spanish football after a successful period in Greece with Olympiacos, and his time with Valencia has been just as good so far, winning six of his eight league matches since taking over the club in December. However, both of those losses came at home, and Barcelona are obviously heading into the Mestalla as big favorites.
Last season, Barcelona managed only a 2-2 draw in Valencia in what was a very fiery match. This year Valencia managed to keep Barcelona rather tamed at home, losing “only” 1-0 at the Nou Camp. The problem for Valencia begins with their approach – they usually don’t play too closed down against the two Spanish giants, but if they concede an early goal it seems they go out on some sort of all-out attack in hope of saving something out of the match, only to get pummeled into submission. Aggression and enthusiasm is good and well, but it has to come with a side of caution.
For Barcelona, it’s about leaving the Clasico storm behind. The 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu left Real Madrid more pleased with the result; Barcelona had the better chances to finish the game and pretty much the semifinal. And yet, what happened after the match – the whole Lionel Messi vs Arbeloa and Karanka affair was what most have been talking about since.
The key is to remain focused, as assistant manager Jordi Roura keeps talking about, instead of forgetting about what’s really important: keep winning matches by simply focusing on football, something this team does better than anyone else.
Predictions – In any Barcelona match, home & away, they’re favorites. Hard to see what Valencia can come up with in this kind of Barcelona form and season, but you never know at the Mestalla. Still, anything but a Barcelona win would be a huge shock.