Valencia have the chance to
prove La Liga is more than just a battle between Real Madrid and
Barcelona when Jose Mourinho's juggernaut heads to the Mestalla
Mourinho's Real have been irresistible in racking up 10
consecutive wins in all competitions and have opened a
three-point lead over second-placed Barcelona with three matches
to go before the pair meet in the 'clasico' at the Bernabeu on
The clashes between the world's two richest clubs by income
are generally the key to the league title but third-placed
Valencia are one of the few clubs that could have a say in the
Unai Emery's team have finished third the last two seasons,
albeit over 20 points short of second place, and are four points
adrift of Real after 11 matches.
They held champions Barca to a 2-2 draw at the Mestalla in
September and have a point to prove after being humiliated 6-3
at home by Real last season.
"It will be a difficult game to win because they are a team
who have taken on board their coach's ideas even more from last
time," Valencia stalwart David Albelda told reporters.
"We could be facing the strongest Madrid side of the
Mourinho era... but good runs have to end some day."
Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from helping Portugal
qualify for Euro 2012, emphasised the importance of keeping
Barca at arm's length.
"If we don't beat Valencia or Atletico Madrid [next week] we
aren't going to be able to play Barca safe in the knowledge that
we have a cushion in case we lose," he told sports daily AS.
"We are doing well, we are better than last year, we are
maturing and we want to continue this way."
Ronaldo and Alvaro Arbeloa returned from international duty
with minor problems but coach Mourinho could give new signing
Nuri Sahin more game time after the Turkey midfielder made his
injury-delayed debut in a 7-1 hammering of Osasuna last time
Unbeaten Barca are at home to 16th-placed Real Zaragoza on
Saturday and after a draw at Athletic Bilbao two weeks
ago the champions are in the unfamiliar position of having to
hang on the coat-tails of their arch rivals.
Pep Guardiola's side have lacked spark in some of their
recent games and have appeared reliant on La Liga's leading
scorer Lionel Messi to lift them.
The World Player of the Year, who is still only 24, will
take to the Nou Camp eight years and three days after making his
first-team debut for Barca at Porto in a friendly.
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