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Los Che have been stuttering in the league of late, and Almeria, who have shown good form in recent time, will look to take advantage of their hosts’ uncertainty...

Kick Off: Sunday, March 21, 2010. 19:00 CET
Mestalla, Valencia


Fortress Mestalla


Valencia may command third place in La Primera Division at present, though their lofty perch is currently under fire from a host of teams after Unai Emery’s unit have managed to claim just two victories in their last eight encounters. With their participation in next season’s Champions League now looking questionable, they must step up against Almeria this Sunday evening.

Los Che have done well at Mestalla in league play since the turn of the year, winning four of their last five matches, but Carlos Marchena is looking for better after his side were humbled 3-0 by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona at Camp Nou last weekend.

“We were beginning to play well and now there may be some doubt, but we must not lose our composure and confidence,” he told the side’s official website. “The goal will be achieved if the Mestalla becomes a fortress.

Emery’s side did not have the opportunity to bounce back nicely at home, rather having to travel to Werder Bremen on Europa League business on Thursday, hoping to qualify after a 1-1 home tie. They answered with a remarkable 4-4 draw, and while the weekend’s match is likely to be exciting, it is unlikely to live up to thrills and spills of than encounter.

Giving Nothing Away


When Juan Manuel Lillo was appointed as Almeria coach over Christmas, his objective was clear: steer the club away from the relegation zone. Still only 44, he has been in the coaching game since he was a teenager. Such experience is clearly paying dividends with the southern side, whom he has easily guided away from the teeth of the drop.

Almeria’s turnaround since New Year has been staggering. Having previously won only 13 points, Lillo has helped them to 20 points in only 11 fixtures, suffering only one loss along the way, that coming on a bog of a pitch away to Sevilla.

The club have not had a problem scoring all season, but their defence was frequently leaking one, two or even three goals earlier in the campaign. In that regard they’ve tightened matters up, keeping three clean sheets in their last four games. Lionel Messi is the only player to have breached their rearguard since Valentine’s Day, which, given the Argentine’s current form, is hardly something to be ashamed of.

There has been a clear divide between the club’s home form and their record on the road. Four of the five victories achieved under Lillo have come at the Estadio del Mediterraneo, while three of their five away matches have been drawn. Nevertheless, such a pace will get them close to the Europa League spots come May, though that remains something of a pipe dream for the southerners.



FORM GUIDE

Valencia


DREW 4-4 (a) Werder Bremen (Europa League, March 18)

LOST 3-0 (a) Barcelona (Liga, March 14)

DREW 1-1 (h) Werder Bremen (Europa League, March 11)

DREW 0-0 (h) Racing Santander (Liga, March 8)

LOST 4-1 (a) Atletico Madrid (Liga, February 28)

Almeria


WON 1-0 (h) Malaga (Liga, Match 14)

DREW 2-2 (h) Barcelona (Liga, March 6)

WON 2-0 (a) Racing Santander (Liga, February 28)

WON 1-0 (h) Atletico Madrid (Liga, February 21)

DREW 2-2 (a) Getafe (Liga, February 14)

TEAM NEWS

Valencia


There were no squad updates available at the time of writing following the midweek match in Germany. Once more suspensions will hamper Unai Emery’s team selection, with Bruno, Hedwiges Maduro and Nikola Zigic unavailable for that reason.

David Albelda is expected to be available, but Jeremy Mathieu and David Navarro are out. The latter should be available in around a week.

Probable Starting XI:
Cesar; Miguel, Dealbert, Marchena, Alexis; Fernandes, Banega; Pablo, Silva, Mata; Villa

Almeria

Miguel Angel Nieto is closing in on a return from a hamstring problem but isn’t ready yet, while Chico is out for four weeks with a similar problem. There was a little concern over Crusat following last weekend’s success over Malaga, but he will be fit.

Probable Starting XI:
Diego Alves; Michel, Pellerano, Chico, Guilherme; M’Bami, Bernardello; Piatti, Soriano, Crusat; Goitom

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Valencia


Fourth in the Castrol Rankings, there is little doubt that David Villa remains los Che’s star man. He may not possess the sheer weight of goals that Lionel Messi has for Barcelona this term, but he is invaluable to his side’s charge. Surprisingly, Valencia haven’t found the net easily this term, so the contribution of 17 goals he has provided has been invaluable.

Almeria


Swedish forward Henok Goitom will likely be the man charged with breaking down the Valencia rearguard. The 25-year-old isn’t regarded as a particularly potent threat, having scored just the one goal this season, but he has been earning more regular game-time of late and establishing himself as a first team player after a difficult start to the campaign.

PREDICTION


Though Valencia haven’t been especially convincing in recent times, los Che have been fairly steady at home. Their squad is sprinkled with unavailability, which will make things a little awkward, while Almeria’s form in general is enough to suggest that their near neighbours will provide a banana skin that won’t necessarily be easily overcome. It’s about time Unai Emery’s side got three points on the board though.

Valencia 2-1 Almeria


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