Valencia and Barcelona are set to battle it out in a top of the table clash this evening at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. Marcelino’s team have put together an eight-game winning run, which has seen them rise to be Barcelona’s nearest challenges at this stage of the season.
They are just four points off the La Liga leaders, but Marcelino will have to watch today’s game from the Mestalla stands. He was handed a two-match touchline ban following his dismissal during his side’s 2-0 La Liga win at Espanyol last Sunday.
This will be their biggest test of the season against Barca, who have won 11 of their 12 league games.
Barcelona midfielder Denis Suarez is well aware of the significance of the game. “It’s a very important game for us because it could leave us seven points clear at the top of the table” he said.
“I know [Valencia manager] Marcelino very well because I played under him at Villarreal. His teams like to play on the counter, make quick transitions and are always very strong in defence.
“They play Marcelino’s favourite 4-4-2 system. It won’t be easy because it never is down there, and they’re playing some incredible football this year.”
Simone Zaza, Carlos Soler and Goncalo Guedes should all return for Valencia after they were rested in the win at Espanyol last Sunday but Jeison Murillo and Javi Jimenez remain on the sidelines.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season last weekend against Leganes while Sergi Roberto, Andre Gomes, Rafinha and Javier Mascherano are all missing through injury.
Lionel Messi, who signed a new contract yesterday, was rested against Juventus in midweek but will start.
Valencia have won only two of their last 20 league games against Barcelona (losing 13 of those), and both were as visitors (3-2 in February 2014 and 2-1 in April 2016). However they have won eight consecutive games in La Liga, their best winning streak in the competition.
Messi has had a hand in 26 of Barcelona’s last 33 goals against Valencia in La Liga (with 20 scored and six assisted).
Santi Mina has already scored five league goals in his 12 appearances this season, having hit just six in his previous 29 league games. Mina, with two, is the only Valencia player to have netted more than one goal against Barca.