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Valencia go into this match amid a poor run of form and the Blaugrana will be keen to move on from their Champions League debacle.
In the Champions League era, which began in 1992 after the European Cup was rebranded, only Real Madrid have won the trophy more times than Barcelona. Champions in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015, the Blaugrana have continually come up short in the last seven years. But quarter-final and semi-final exits between 2016 and 2020 do not look so bad now.
For the second season running, Barcelona have been eliminated from Europe’s principal competition before the knockout phase. Their failure last term was blamed on a subpar squad. But that excuse does not wash after a summer transfer window in which Barcelona were by far the biggest spenders in Spain.
In order to afford their recent splurge, Barcelona in effect sold off future revenue streams in exchange for immediate cash injections. It was a contentious strategy loaded with risk, but the advantage was supposed to be short-term on-field success.
Now Xavi Hernandez’s side have not even made it through to the knockout stage of the Champions League, leaving a huge black hole in the club’s budget.
Xavi has come in for criticism since the 3-0 defeat by Bayern Munich in midweek. Barcelona’s fate had already been sealed before then: Inter’s victory over Viktoria Plzen in one of the early kick-offs meant they could no longer be overtaken in the standings by the La Liga giants.
Xavi is not beyond criticism, but the bulk of the blame lies with his superiors. After all, they knew he was a rookie coach when they appointed him, and when Xavi returned to the Camp Nou last summer he thought he was overseeing a long-term project built on the promotion of youth. Barcelona’s reckless spending has made immediate success more important than it should be.
Valencia fans have high expectations. They believe the club ranks behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in terms of size and history (even though Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have both won more La Liga titles).
The last few seasons, then, have been hugely disappointing for the Mestalla faithful. Peter Lim, the unpopular owner, has borne the brunt of the criticism, but there have been plenty of frustrating on-field moments too.
Valencia achieved back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2017/18 and 2018/19, and they also won the Copa del Rey in the second of those campaigns after beating Barcelona in the final. Since then, however, they have finished ninth, 13th and ninth. Ninth is also where they currently sit in the La Liga standings, which is a few places short of where Valencia want to be.
Qualification for the Europa League or the Europa Conference League is the objective this term, but Gennaro Gattuso is only a few months into the job and he needs to be given time to get his ideas across.
The supporters are certainly on board with his pivot towards youth, and the energy that this Valencia side plays with makes them more likable than the team managed by Jose Bordalas last term. Results have been mixed, however.
Valencia will head into the weekend on the back of a three-game winless streak, while Mestalla’s reputation as a fortress has been somewhat dented by the fact that los Che have failed to win half of their home matches so far in 2022/23. Still, Barcelona will have to be ready for a ferocious atmosphere at Mestalla, which is home to of the most raucous atmospheres in Spanish soccer.
“The team was affected by the elimination,” Xavi said after the Bayern loss. “But it’s not an excuse, we just didn’t compete. It is a tough blow, but we have to keep believing in this team. There are still titles to play for. We have to be united, face the situation. There are more competitions. I don’t see it as a failure, I prefer to call it a tough blow.”
Barcelona must not feel sorry for themselves after their Champions League exit. They are already three points behind Real Madrid at the summit of the standings in La Liga and they cannot afford to fall further adrift. The Blancos have three winnable games before the pause for the 2022 World Cup next month, so the pressure is on Barcelona right now.
In fairness to the Blaugrana, their record domestically is pretty strong. A 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the Clasico represented a setback, but Barcelona have won every other league game since a 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano on the opening weekend. No team in the division has scored more goals than their 28, while no side has conceded as few as their four.
Valencia have not been overly convincing in their recent outings, and we think Barcelona will prove too strong for the hosts at Mestalla. Back Xavi’s team to get back on track by scoring in both halves.
|Teams||Valencia vs Barcelona|
Mestalla, Valencia, Spain
Saturday, 29 October 2022, 15.00 PM EDT
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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