La Liga

Valencia vs. Barcelona: What to Expect Tactically from Both Sides

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 24:  Javi Fuego of Valencia CF in action during the La Liga match between RCD Espanyol and Valencia CF at Cornella-El Prat Stadium on August 24, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

They were 6-0 up by half-time against Levante in the opening week of the season, eventually winning by seven. On Wednesday night they started what they hope will become a collection of trophies this season, beating Atletico Madrid on away goals in the Supercopa, yet there still remains a nagging feeling that we don't yet know how good Tata Martino's Barcelona will be. 

On Sunday they head south to play Valencia. At Mestalla they will not just find a side also under a new manager, but a side whose expectations for the season also seem difficult to judge at this early stage.

“We have made a fool of ourselves,” Miroslav Djukic blasted after last weekend's defeat to Espanyol in Catalonia, via football-espana.net.

We are ashamed of that performance. We’re just not as good as we think—we need to get our head out of the clouds. We didn't have the intensity a team in this League needs. It looked tonight like Espanyol were the team fighting for the Champions League.

Limited resources mean that the former Real Valladolid boss will not be able to make wholesale changes, meaning that Los Che's first two matches are a decent barometer for how they will line up against Barca.

Without the ball, considering their illustrious opponents, Valencia's common 4-2-3-1 should succumb to a more solid 4-5-1. Javi Fuego, who often drops in between the central defenders, will be play an important role both with, and without the ball.

In particular he will be tasked with shutting down the space which Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas so frequently find.

Alongside him Michel, a summer signing from Levante, will have to improve on a sloppy performance against Espanyol in possession—that is if he manages to stave off the challenge of Chelsea loanee Oriol Romeu for a starting spot.

Luckily Barca don't carry the aerial threat which saw Espanyol score twice at Cornella, but Djukic may need to rethink his left-back situation.

Jeremy Mathieu prefers, as of this calendar year, to play centrally, and his performance as a full-back suggested he will not be used there again. With Aly Cissokho now at Liverpool, the options are Juan Bernat, who played for Spain Under-20s there this summer and, at a stretch, Andres Guardado.

For Barcelona, Tata Martino is still finding his feet in terms of his preferred personnel. Fabregas, Neymar, Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez have all found themselves on the bench at times, while their new manager admits that their tactics still need refining, via football-espana.net:

We do need to fix things, we have to have more pace, more precision and attack into space. One of my intentions is regain our pressure but perhaps we can’t do that against teams that close themselves off at the back.

Djukic's side, like Malaga and Atleti before them, is likely to sit back, forcing Barcelona to find that pace and precision Tata is looking for.

He's put a lot of faith in Alexis Sanchez, allowing him to roam inside, and the Chilean could do with finding a defining performance this weekend. If, as expected, he starts on the right of Barca's front three, he could hold the key against either the inexperienced Bernat or the sulking Mathieu.

Valencia's lack of fire power could prove the main difference though. Can they create for Helder Postiga? Will new signing Dorlan Pabon burst back into La Liga after his successful spell at Real Betis?

Both answers will have to be yes if they want to take something from the weekend's fixture, because they'll have to score.

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