An undefeated Valencia, one of the most solid units in Europe takes on Barcelona on Sunday in La Liga’s match of the season so far
On Sunday, the football world will come to a halt when the fixture between Valencia and Barcelona kicks off.
LaLiga fans will hold their collective breaths for ninety minutes while the current top dog (34 points) – almost unstoppable this season – faces off against the only team that has been capable of keeping up with their streak (the Bats stand in second place with 30 points).
A win by visiting Barcelona would skyrocket the Catalan club seven points ahead of the opposition; a home upset, meanwhile, could send the competition into an exciting frenzy unseen in many seasons.
With a sold-out atmosphere in Mestalla and a team bursting with confidence, Marcelino García Toral and his assistants have been carefully planning for a game which will pit the two best teams in the competition to date. Marcelino himself won’t be able to watch it from the bench, as he was sent off in the last game against Espanyol and faces a two-match ban. Second-in-command Rubén Uría will coach the team from the sidelines.
Valencia has completely reversed the drama surrounding the team over the past two seasons. Thanks to smart signings this summer and the incredible impact Marcelino has had on the squad, the line-up is strong and defensively outstanding, with goalkeeper Neto Murara highlighting the importance of keeping a clean sheet. With regular starter Jeison Murillo injured, Garay and Paulista seem to be the ones chosen to stop Messi and company in their tracks.
However, Valencia’s spectacular season relies heavily on effectiveness and accuracy in their attacking line. Both Rodrigo Moreno and Santi Mina appear to be blessed with a pinpoint precision that was lacked thoroughly last year, and it has provided the team with plenty of goals and points over the first twelve games. Rodrigo’s excellent season to date was rewarded a few days ago with a contract extension: the Spanish-Brazilian player will play as a Valencianista until 2022, with a huge bump in his buyout clause (a whopping €120 million).
? Rodrigo Moreno: "Lo mejor siempre está por llegar" ??
— Valencia CF ?? (@valenciacf) November 23, 2017
It’s actually pretty amazing to consider how much the team has changed in just a few months. Nobody would have considered Valencia a title contender last summer. Not by a long shot. And, yet, here we are. Players themselves try to swerve and dodge the question whenever it’s asked. And they are absolutely right: we haven’t even reached the half-season milestone, so considering Valencia a challenger nowadays is probably hasty. Marcelino never speaks about it, so following his example is the best course of action.
The atmosphere is going to be pretty electric nonetheless, but a sad loss over in the approach to the match has made the clash even more emotional: former president Jaume Orti, whose years in the chair coincided with Rafael Benitez’s powerhouse team hitting its stride (2001-2004), passed away last Friday. He was 70.
The man considered by many as Valencia’s best president ever was deeply mourned by players, journalists and fans alike. Everybody expects the team to deliver on the pitch, fight and strike down LaLiga’s mightiest side and dedicate the huge win to Ortí, the best tribute for such a good-hearted man.