Fourth meets fifth in the Primera Division on Sunday night, when erratic Valencia meet an Espanyol side not noted for their travelling abilities.
Though the hosts lie stand four in the table, they are a side largely being propped up by their earlier season form. Unai Emery’s outfit picked up five wins from their opening six matches but have since earned only three wins in their subsequence 10 encounters.
At least los Che finished 2010 relatively well. Goals from Tino Costa and Aritz Aduriz turned round a 1-0 deficit against Real Sociedad to pick up a precious victory in San Sebastian, while a 0-0 draw against Villarreal at home in the Copa del Rey was hardly embarrassing, even if it does leave their life in the knock-out competition hanging by a thread.
Indications that all is not well on Spain’s east coast come in the press, where Valencia are being linked with a host of players, including centre-back Adil Rami of Lille and striker Kevin Gameiro of Lorient. Ambitions are high at the Mestalla, with president Manuel Llorente ready to set loft goals for his side.
“We are meeting our objectives, although the staff has changed a lot in the last year. We are in the knockout stages of Europe,” he told the media. “But we have to improve in 2010, because we will meet many skilled opponents.”
Los Periquitos are certainly awkward rivals, but Valencia will be confident of making a quick start after the winter break.
Step By Step
Espanyol have enjoyed a great start to the season. After a number of seasons of mediocrity, the Barcelona club go into 2011 with genuine ambitions of finishing in the top four, though Sunday night’s encounter against Valencia is of particular importance because it is a chance to get the fresh year off on a positive footing.
Despite their strong start, 2010 finished on something of a low for los Periquitos. A defeat against Athletic Bilbao might have been expected, but it was anticipated that Mauricio Pochettino’s side would be good enough to really test Barcelona at the Cornella-El Prat, where they had won seven matches from seven going into the derby. Barca caught fire, and romped to a 5-1 success.
The Copa del Rey was no kinder to the Catalans, who travelled to the Vicente Calderon in the days before Christmas to record a 1-0 defeat against Atletico Madrid. With three successive defeats behind them, the break could not have come at a better time for Espanyol.
“The goal is to go step by step,” Pochettino told the press on Christmas Eve. “The objective we set ourselves is to move forward in each game. We are a young team who are trying to consolidate and I think the team's play during 2010 is highly commendable.”
With a positive aura still surrounding the team, 2011 promises to be an exciting year, and Sunday’s match could set the tone.
David Navarro has been training, but as he has only been running. In any case, he's suspended along with Roberto Soldado. Miguel Angel Moya and Cesar have also been battling problems.
David Garcia is out for a couple of weeks due to a muscular problem in his left leg. Javi Lopez is very unlikely to play, and Victor Ruiz is banned.