El Centrocampista

Stuttering Valencia look to hit back as high flying Atleti come to town

Angel Martinez/Getty Images Europe

With no other club inside the top two since 2008 and no other winner since 2004, Real Madrid and Barcelona are very much in a league of their own. The stranglehold enjoyed by the two bitter rivals seems to  increase each year and by the end of last season, a record 30 point margin had been established between Pep Guardiola’s Barca in second and third-placed Valencia.

The competition for Valencia’s third place has been minimal over the last three seasons but a resurgent Malaga, in form Atletico, and better equipped Sevilla all sit above an 11th place Los Che, and look set to challenge them.

This weekend’s visit to the Mestalla from Atleti is Valencia’s first direct test following an admirable point against Madrid and a 1-0 loss away to Barcelona at the start of the season, since that loss at the Nou Camp it’s been win, loss, win, loss, win, loss for Valencia, all against supposedly lesser opposition.

The story is entirely different for Atletico, after an opening day draw to Levante; the Madrid club have won every single league game the toughest of which being a 2-1 stoppage time victory at the Calderon against third placed Malaga.

Saturday’s Week 10 fixture between Valencia and Atletico is arguably the biggest game of the season so far for both clubs; with an estimated €35 million income from reaching the Champion’s League group stages, gaining automatic entry via a third place finish would be massive for two clubs currently in financial turmoil.

It’s set up to be the tie of the weekend and due to it being a big game coach Mauricio Pellegrino is likely to call on Diego Alves in goal once again in hope of another big performance; stopping Radamel Falcao will be of utmost importance and although the fullbacks, Joao Pereira and Aly Cissokho, pick themselves, rotation between Adil Rami, Ricardo Costa and Victor Ruiz continues at center back as Pellegrino looks to stop his team conceding.

Although the Argentine may have to wait until the January transfer window to comprehensively solve the issue, the answer to many of Valencia’s defensive woes may lie at the training ground with set pieces, particularly corners, being the main issue.

Conversely, Atleti’s back four is almost set in stone, South Americans Diego Godin and Miranda have played every game so far and both bagged a goal each, along with Juanfran, Felipe Luis and Courtois, who have all played in eight of Atletico’s nine games, they have conceded the third least number of goals in the league behind only Real Madrid and Malaga.

Up front Valencia also seem dysfunctional, having only scored half as many goals as Atleti in the league so far this season. Valencia’s top goalscorer Roberto Soldado is stuck on three, compared to the 10 bagged by Falcao. Yet both strikers are struggling for support, the potent Jonas-Soldado partnership of last season is yet to kick into gear for Valencia and little help is received from elsewhere with Pablo Piatti injured, Andres Guardado yet to contribute and Nelson Valdez seemingly an impact substitute.

Falcao is also lacking in contribution with Adrian Lopez out of form and Arda Turan out through injury, focusing mainly on the Colombian may be a sensible rather than simplistic port of call for Pellegrino. Ever Banega’s first start since returning from injury saw an impressive 90 minutes in a 2-0 away win over Llagostera in the Copa Del Rey and he could be seen as the wildcard in deciding which way this fixture and perhaps the battle between the two clubs for the remainder of the season will go.

An Argentine midfield three of Ever Banega, Fernando Gago and Tino Costa would be the most likely and strongest selection for Pellegrino while Diego Simeone is likely to bring in Tiago alongside Mario Suarez and Gabi Fernandez to aid Atleti’s ball retention in the absence of Arda Turan.

Despite Atleti’s fantastic form Valencia also have a good record going into this game having not lost a league game at home since March, the last match lost at the Mestalla in all competitions was the second leg of a Europa League semi-final against Atletico who then went on to win the entire competition.

A win for Valencia on Saturday moves them back into the top 10 and within a manageable distance of the top four, a win for Atletico Madrid and they deal a monumental blow to one of their most able rivals for third place, they would also collect more vital points ahead of the showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu on the 1 December.

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