Galvanised Barca take on Valencia …in LaLiga title pursuit
A Barcelona side galvanised by a gutsy victory over Real Madrid can take a significant step towards the Spanish title with a win over Valencia tomorrow at Camp Nou.
Xavi Hernandez’s men earned a 1-0 Copa Del Rey semi-final, first-leg win over Los Blancos on Thursday, arresting a worrying dip in form before it spiralled out of control.
However, still missing Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Pedri, Barca face a real battle against a Valencia side fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table.
After Manchester United knocked Barca out of the Europa League last week, and defeat by Almeria stopped the Catalans from moving 10 points clear at the top of the table, a third consecutive loss was nearly unthinkable.
Barcelona put on a defensive master-class to frustrate the reigning Spanish and European champions, and carve out a narrow lead in the tie – perhaps more importantly, gaining confidence at a crucial moment of the season.
With few options in the squad for Xavi to rotate with, his first-choice players will have to battle tiredness against a rested Valencia.
Valencia earned their first victory under new coach, Ruben Baraja, last weekend against high-flying Real Sociedad and sit 18th, one point below safety.
Despite Xavi being keen on Barcelona playing in the club’s traditional attacking style, at this stage of the season and with his injury list, victories are crucial – by any means necessary.
“We were extraordinary defending without the ball,” said Xavi after the Clasico win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“Defending is part of the game, that’s why the win is very important, it was a tremendous victory. Today, we minimised Madrid.”
Real had more possession and Xavi said that was not his game-plan.
“They pushed us into our own half a lot, they subdued us with the ball,” he added.
“It’s not the percentage of possession we’re looking for. We need to play with the ball otherwise we won’t control games.”
Against Valencia and back at Camp Nou, Xavi’s side will likely have more of the ball, but Valencia boast plenty of attacking threat on the counter, including in-form winger, Samuel Lino.
Barcelona hold a seven-point lead on second-placed Real Madrid going into the weekend.
Valencia midfielder, Hugo Guillamon, said, his team were heading north aiming for three points.
“We will go there with clear ideas of what we have to do to get the win and the team will work hard this week to have a good game,” Guillamon told Valencia’s website.
“Barcelona have a lot of absentees, but with the squad they have they can make changes and play at a very high level.
“It will be a tough game for us, but we will make it tough for them too.”
Should Barcelona take three points, it will confirm Xavi’s side are back on track, but any other result will give Real Madrid the opportunity to further reduce their lead later Sunday against Real Betis. — AFP
Getafe v Girona
Almeria v Villarreal
Real Mallorca v Elche
Atletico Madrid v Sevilla
Real Valladolid v Espanyol
Barcelona v Valencia
Rayo Vallecano v Athletic Bilbao
Real Betis v Real Madrid
Osasuna v Celta Vigo