Watching Valencia at home this season has always been an interesting proposition.
During the best start to a La Liga campaign in their history they were at times exhilarating at the Mestalla. They racked up big wins against Numancia and Deportivo La Coruna and the title talk began in earnest. The added pressure has made them come unstuck however at home in recent fixtures.
On Sunday they were extremely fortunate to scrape a 3-2 win over battling Betis, and before that they suffered shock losses to Racing Santander (4-2) and Sporting Gijon (3-2). These setbacks coupled with the incessantly consistent form of Barcelona has put the skids on their Primera Division challenge, which means their trip to face the Blaugrana on Sunday in a crucial league clash takes on renewed significance.
With four points from two matches in UEFA cup group G and only one more required to ensure qualification, coach Unai Emery could be forgiven for fielding a weakened side on Thursday evening with one eye on the Camp Nou. The much-maligned top three qualify format of the UEFA cup means it is tougher to be eliminated than make it through, so the second string at Los Che should be good enough to get through this section.
Opponents Club Brugge need is greater in this group. They have drawn twice in their two matches in the section so far, and in their last outing a 1-1 home draw with St. Etienne was enough to see the French side through, leaving only two further slots in the next round up for grabs. Thus with both Copenhagen and Rosenborg still able to qualify, Jacky Mathijssen’s men need a positive result to stay in contention of making it through to the last 32.
They can however call on their excellent recent form which has seen them lose only one match in all competitions this season, and they have stormed to the top of the Belgian Jupiler League, despite strong adversaries Standard Liege and Anderlecht pushing them all the way.
Belgian international Wesley Sonck’s goals have been crucial in their excellent run and we will most likely be the biggest threat to the Valencia goal on the night.
While we may see Unai Emery opt to field a reserve team, Club Brugge are a decent side and will prove to be a stern test. If Los Che are not careful, the Belgian cracks could give the Spanish side another headache at home.
Valencia boss Unai Emery still has the return from injury of David Silva to look forward to, but not for a few weeks yet, while Vicente is also still missing. Midfielder Edu limped off at half time against Betis with a hamstring injury and is out for a month.
With the crucial trip to the Camp Nou to come on Sunday, and needing only one point to qualify, this could be the Copa Del Rey second string in action tonight. The likes of Morientes and Zigic could well see action this evening.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Renan - Miguel, Helguera, Albiol, Del Horno - Joaquin, Baraja, Albeda, Hernandez - Morientes, Zigic
Nabil Dirar returns after suspension at the weekend but Jonathan Blondel and Dusan Djokic miss out with minor knocks. They arrive in Spain on the back of a twenty-game domestic unbeaten run, and with the likes of Belgian international Wesley Sonck on good form, they will prove stern opponents.
Full Squad: Stijnen, Ciman, Evens, Klukowski, Clement, Daerden, Dirar, Sonck, De Vlieger, Simaeys, Akpala, van Heerden, Leko, Chavez, Vargas, Geraerts, Lenaerts, Capon, De Mets, Alcaraz.
Players to Watch:
Fernando Morientes can still get goals even at this advanced stage of his career, and is likely to start to night with David Villa rested. It will be another opportunity to prove how adept he is at leading the line.
Wesley Sonck has always threatened to become a top European player but it hasn’t really happened for him. However he has eleven goals in eighteen appearances this season and his pace will be an undoubted threat to the home defence.
Given Los Che’s up-and-down form of late, and the importance of their weekend fixture, Club Brugge may pull of a shock result tonight and stun the Mestalla with a stunning win.
Valencia 1-2 Club Brugge