BARCELONA // David Villa did not leave Valencia on bad terms. Barcelona’s Spain striker, who equalled Raul’s 44 goal national team record against Scotland at Hampden Park midweek, still speaks highly of the club he helped get into this season’s Champions League. Asked if it was difficult to leave the Mestalla, Villa said: “I was happy there but I think it suited the club to sell me because they needed money to pay off debts. A few of us - David Silva, Marchena, Baraja - left and that bro ught money in to help with the debts.
“It’s a great club and I had super relationships with the fans, the coach and players. We came through a lot together. The club was on the verge of going out of business and we grouped together and finished third in the league to reach the Champions League.”
Valencia fans knew that they would lose their best players at the end of last season and looked nervously ahead to the new one. Not even the most optimistic of the 40,000 regulars at the Mestalla could have envisaged what happened next. Such has been Valencia’s brilliant start to this season, Los Che go into tonight’s league game at Barcelona atop of the Primera Liga.
With five wins and a draw from their first six league games, Valencia are a point ahead of their neighbours Villarreal, two ahead of Real Madrid and three in front of Barcelona.
Unai Emery’s summer signings have enjoyed a flying start, boast a superb team spirit which their coach engenders. When their internationals returned on Wednesday, they spent the day on a yacht in the Mediterranean, before splitting into groups to go sailing, kayak and canoe – all part of Emery’s team building philosophy.
Valencia boast two players for every position – though central defence remains their weak point. Up front, Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz – two strikers who were brought in to replace Villa and Silva from Getafe and Mallorca, have started well.
Though neither is a classic No 9, both are good in the air and receive excellent service from Spanish international wingers Pablo Hernandez and Juan Mata. Tonight will be their toughest match by far, especially as champions Barcelona need a win after losing and drawing their last two matches in Camp Nou. The pair met at exactly the same stage last season, though that game was at the Mestalla where Valencia halted Barca’s six game winning start with a goalless draw.
Coach Guardiola has tweaked his side’s preparations for this season. Players’ meals are monitored for two days leading up to a game. Barca also train on a matchday at 11.30am, before Guardiola gives his tactical talk. Then the players return home to rest with instructions to come back 90 minutes before kick-off.
Barca’s six Spanish internationals, plus three who played for Spain’s Under 21’s on Wednesday, will appreciate the extra time after their midweek sorties. They returned to training Wednesday to find Samuel Eto’o hugging Guardiola. The former Barca star did not always get on with his boss and personality issues led to his departure to Inter Milan, but he was back in town to say hello rather than re-sign.
Villa will hope for some of the success enjoyed by Eto’o. He has scored two goals in the five league games he’s started since leaving the Mestalla and though he picked up a minor injury in the final minute against Scotland, he should start tonight against his former side.
Camp Nou has a new pitch after the last one cut up badly against Mallorca two weeks ago. The biggest game in Spain so far this season deserves a perfect stage.
10pm, Aljazeera Sport +3
Primera Liga Fixtures Today Atletico Madrid v Getafe 8pm Barcelona v Valencia 10pm Malaga v Real Madrid midnight
Tomorrow Athletic Bilbao v Real Zaragoza 9pm Deportivo v Osasuna 7pm Levante v Real Sociedad 7pm Mallorca v Espanyol 7pm Racing Santander v Almeria 7pm Sporting Gijon v Sevilla 11pm
Monday Hercules v Villarreal 11pm