Setien's challenging start to life on the road
Two of the Champions League’s last 16 go head-to-head in La Liga this Saturday with Valencia hosting reigning champions Barcelona. The Mates come into this one off the back of a 4-1 pummeling by relegation scrappers, Mallorca, however Alberto Celades’ men are unbeaten at The Mestallain the league this term and will not be letting that record slip easily. In a so far quiet winter transfer period this encounter can come to the forefront of European football, it is also a repeat of last season’s Copa Del Rey final, to which two first half goals helped Valencia unexpectedly take the crown. Barcelona narrowly maintain first place coming into this, still just two strikes above Real Madrid on goal difference.
Newly appointed gaffer Setien is a bit of a throwback for the Catalan Giants, bringing back a heavy possession-based style, very different from the more direct yet still mightily effective philosophy of Ernesto Valverde. Easy on the eye football at Las Palmas and Real Betis in the past is what made him an attractive proposition and that is exactly how Barcelona began against Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Lionel Messi scored the only goal of the game in the last quarter of an hour however; the statistics suggest it was a more comfortable win. The hosts enjoyed a whopping 83% of the ball and only conceding one shot on target to their six. Completing 924 passes, which is 203 more than their final La Liga fixture under Valverde.
Big game players
Valencia have had a habit of pulling it out of the bag in decisive moments this campaign, defying the odds to dump out Ajax and progress in the Champions League along with their solid home record. Their last three league matches against top six opposition have ended in a 1-1 draw, that is with Real Madrid, Sevilla and Diego Simeone’s Atletico.
Having proven their strength to the continent this season, Barcelona is not the intimidating prospect that it has been in the past and with good application, The Mates can certainly get a positive outcome on Saturday afternoon. They have scored exactly one goal in their last six games with both teams getting on the scoresheet in four of their last five.
Barcelona fans would like to think they set the records straight from the Copa Del Rey disaster in the reverse fixture, dismantling the East Coast side’s backline in a 5-2 demolition, despite the absence of their talisman Lionel Messi. Luis Suarez scored twice off the bench after the hour mark in that one.
Refocused following their lacklustre performance at the weekend, Valencia have the firepower to challenge the league leaders and are equally equipped to deal with the lack of possession.