Spanish League Preview Week 3

Celta Vigo
This weekend’s programme of La Liga action gets underway on Saturday afternoon when Celta welcome Osasuna to the Balaidos Stadium in Vigo, with both teams still looking for their first points of the season

Espanyol and Athletic Club will also be desperate to break their duck while Valladolid and Rayo, the only two teams apart from Barça to have won their opening two league games, will be hoping to continue their excellent start to the 2012-13 campaign.

Getafe look to build on Madrid win

Osasuna will be without team captain Puñal as the midfielder begins a four-match ban for his sending off against Barça. In Saturday’s other three matches, Real Sociedad go to Mallorca, Getafe visit Deportivo on a high after last weekend’s 2-1 win against Real Madrid while Champions League newcomers, Malaga, travel to Zaragoza.

Valladolid yet to concede

On Sunday, Real Madrid, who have collected a meagre one point from two games, play host to Granada in the Bernabeu while in another part of the Spanish capital, Rayo Vallecano take on Sevilla. Further north in Bilbao, Athletic Club face a tough encounter with Valladolid – the only team to have kept two clean sheets so far in sharp contrast to the home side who have conceded nine goals in their matches against Betis and Atletico. Espanyol, another side looking for their first points, are away to Levante.

Atletico on a roll

The final match of the weekend features Atletico Madrid away to Betis. Diego Simeone’s men are riding high at the moment following on from their stunning 4-1 win against Chelsea in the European Super Cup and the 4-0 demolition of Athletic Club last Monday. The two wins featured hat tricks from striker Falcao and the Columbian has received high praise from his delighted manager. “How can you define Falcao? There are no words. The bigger the demands, the better he responds”. No doubt he’ll be relishing taking on a Betis side which has leaked five in their two league matches.

Messi, a nightmare for Valencia

PHOTO: ARCHIVE FCB
The Argentine international has scored eight goals in six league matches in the Camp Nou against Valencia, including a hat-trick in 2009/2010 and four last season

There are few goal-scoring records left for Leo Messi to break. Last season, he accumulated an amazing 73 goals in a Barça shirt and if that wasn’t enough to worry Sunday’s visitors then his eight goals in six matches against Valencia in the Camp Nou will certainly give Pellegrino’s side plenty to think about.

Opening draw

Leo Messi’s debut home game against Valencia in the 2005/06 season gave few indications of the goal feast to come and it was David Villa – then still a Valencia player – who opened the scoring. Iniesta equalised and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

However, it didn’t take long for Messi to open his account against Valencia. Just four minutes into the next meeting, he shook off the attentions of three defenders and forced a penalty which he himself converted. The game went on to end up 6-0.

More success with Guardiola

That was Frank Rijkaard’s last season in charge and Guardiola’s first season at the helm saw French striker Thierry Henry take the limelight scoring a hat trick in Barça’s 4-0 victory.

In the 2009/10 season, after receiving his first Golden Ball, Leo Messi emulated Henry’s achievement with another great hat trick in the Camp Nou. The first was a superb individual effort in which skipped past Banega, Bruno and Dealbert to score against defenceless Cesar. His second followed a pattern that has become familiar over the years – a diagonal run from the right wing – followed by a third with his right foot. Tito Vilanova took Guardiola’s place on the coach’s bench that day.

The following season, Valencia managed to neutralise Messi but in doing so left space for Iniesta and Puyol to score and hand Barça a 2-1 win.

Four last season

Last season, Leo Messi scored four times to take his personal tally of Camp Nou goals against Valencia to eight. The visitors took the lead through another Argentine, Piatti, but Messi hit back with two, with Pedro and Abidal providing the final pass. The third showed his sharpness in front of goal when he seized on a rebound from Diego Alves while goal number four featured a confident chip.

Alves trains with the group

PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
The Brazilian international rejoined his team-mates for training on Saturday morning after missing out on the Super Cup second leg. Meanwhile, Carles Puyol also spent part of the session alongside the rest of the squad

The players returned to training this morning to prepare this Sunday’s home game against Valencia (kick-off 9.30 pm). There was good news on the injury front with Alves, Puyol and Thiago all taking at least some part in the group workout. For the Brazilian it was his first group session since he picked up his leg injury. Tello, from Barça B, also trained with the squad.

Ovation for Iniesta

The newly crowned ‘Best Player in Europe’, Andrés Iniesta, was treated to an enthusiastic ovation from team-mates and coaches at the start of training.

The final training session before the match against Valencia will take place at 12 noon on Sunday.

Tito Vilanova: "We’ll try and reach the international break with nine points"

Tito Vilanova/ PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Tito Vilanova stresses the importance of taking all three points this Sunday against Valencia, bearing in mind next week’s international break.

As for his two-match ban from the bench, Vilanova told reporters: “They’ve set the bar very high”

The Barça manager emphasised that Valencia are dangerous when running into space and in dead ball situations

Recognition for Iniesta

Tito Vilanova is delighted that Andrés Iniesta has been chosen as UEFA ‘Best Player in Europe’ for the 2011/12 season: “Any one of the three could have won – Iniesta, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Andrés has been playing well for a long time. He deserves the award. He’s worked hard for a long time. It’s a source of pride for the Club that two out of the three best players in Europe belong to Barça. I’d like to congratulate all three of them.”

Speaking at a press conference ahead of Sunday’s important game against Valencia, Tito Vilanova revealed that the players have reacted well after the disappointment of the Spanish Super Cup. And he underlined his determination to make it three league wins in three before the international break:”The squad has reacted well. We’re all aware that we’ve only just begun, that we have a very important home game and that we have to try and reach the break with nine points”.

Threats posed by Valencia

However, Vilanova made it clear that Valencia is capable of creating a lot of danger on Sunday evening: “It’s true that they’ve changed a few players but the majority are still there. It’s a team that poses a threat breaking quickly into space. Soldado is one example and he scores freely. They’re also very dangerous in dead ball situations”.

Fitness doubts may sideline Dani Alves and Carles Puyol but Vilanova said today: “Alves trained as usual and felt fine”. He confirmed that he would be talking with the doctors and fitness coaches before deciding. As for Puyol: “He trained for part of the session and tomorrow we’ll make a final decision about his availability”.

He also referred to his two-match ban following on from his protests about a foul on Sergio Busquets in the Osasuna game: “I believe that, for what I said to the assistant referee, in a polite way, they’ve set the bar very high and I hope they keep it there for the rest of the season. I accept the ban and I can only say that I hope they have the character to maintain this standard”.

Champions League draw

FC Barcelona has been drawn together with Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Glasgow Celtic in the group stage of the Champions League. According to Tito Vilanova: “We haven’t looked at our rivals yet. Right now we’re focussed on analysing the Real Madrid game and preparing the match against Valencia. I think there are no easy opponents or easy matches in Europe. On past occasions we’ve really suffered against relatively easy teams”.

Vilanova is pleased that David Villa has been recalled to the Spain squad. “He has to gradually play more and more. He’s made very good progress in the last few days. It’s good for his self-esteem that he’s been included in the national squad and it’ll be very important for us to get him back”. In addition, he is convinced that Cesc Fabregas,” will have a good season”.

Fontàs and Dos Santos

Vilanova explained negotiations for a possible move for Fontàs had broken down as the three parties couldn’t reach an agreement but that the case of Dos Santos is rather different: “He has decided to stay here. The fact that he’s continuing will imply leaving other players out”.