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Valencia are going through a sticky patch and the Blaugrana should have enough about them to emerge victorious.
Back Barcelona to win (+100)
For the first time since early September, Barcelona climbed into the top four of the La Liga table at the start of February. A 4-2 victory over Atletico Madrid saw the Blaugrana leapfrog the champions in the standings, and Diego Simeone’s side’s continued struggles give Barcelona the edge in the race to finish in the top four. In an ordinary season such an ambition would not even be voiced, such is its modesty. But this is where Barcelona are at right now. Champions League qualification should not be sniffed at.
Not that this is a straight shoot-out between Barcelona and Atletico. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that both clubs finish outside the top four. Sevilla look set to finish second at a minimum. Real Betis are still going strong in third place. Real Sociedad, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao are only a win or two away from putting some serious pressure on those in the Champions League spots. We could be in store for quite the battle.
Barcelona’s recent unbeaten run will give them confidence. Xavi Hernandez’s team have now gone eight league games without defeat. They have not been perfect in that time, with dropped points against Osasuna, Granada and Espanyol. Last weekend’s 2-2 draw with the latter would have been worse had Luuk de Jong not struck a dramatic equalizer in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time. But they have at least become more difficult to beat.
This is Xavi’s first managerial job in Europe. It was never going to be an instant fix, and it could take another year or two before Barcelona are ready to challenge for the La Liga title again. For now, at least, there is something to believe in – even if Xavi’s project does remain a work in progress.
If things are beginning to look up at the Camp Nou, the same cannot be said at Mestalla. A seven-match unbeaten run before Christmas saw Valencia climb up to seventh in the table and gave rise to European aspirations. They have since been extinguished.
Valencia lost 2-1 at home to Espanyol on New Year’s Eve and have continued in the same vein in 2022. A tally of two points from the last 18 available is the joint-worst record in the division. Whereas Barcelona occupy top spot in the form table over the last six games, Valencia sit second-bottom. For the first time since taking charge of los Che last summer, Jose Bordalas has come under pressure, although his team’s run to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey has given him a degree of breathing space.
Even if they go on to reach the final of Spain’s cup competition, Valencia cannot afford for their La Liga slump to continue for too much longer. The league is the bread and butter for every club and Valencia’s famously demanding supporters will not accept their club finishing a few places above the relegation zone. No one is expecting a top-four finish this season but Bordalas needs to turn the situation around if he is to avoid the fate of many of his recent predecessors.
Mestalla is renowned as a tough place to go. Its steep stands and tight pitch help the Valencia fans to generate one of the best atmospheres in Spanish soccer. But the characteristics which make it a help at times can make it a hindrance at others. The locals could get on the team’s back if things start to go wrong on Sunday. That would play into Barcelona’s hands.
Even so, Valencia’s home record speaks for itself. They have lost only twice at Mestalla this term. Ten teams have collected more points on home turf than los Che, who have drawn six times in front of their own fans. But only Sevilla and Real Madrid have lost fewer games on their own patch.
Barcelona will not have it easy on Sunday, but there is reason to believe they can get the job done. For starters Xavi simply has a better caliber of player at his disposal than Bordalas. Barcelona have not quite found the right balance between attack and defense yet, but they are moving in the right direction. The January additions of Adama Traore, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres have certainly brought extra firepower to the forward line.
Equally significantly, Valencia are on a bad run right now. That will not continue forever, but it is hard to see them avoiding defeat by Xavi’s side this weekend.
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|Valencia vs Barcelona Information|
|Teams||Valencia vs Barcelona|
|Location||Mestalla, Valencia, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 20 February 2022, 10.15 AM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
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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