Barcelona v Valladolid, La Liga, May 16, 2010
“The fans must not see themselves as champions because that’s not the case and the team shouldn’t think it and that is my job… We have the great fortune of having our destiny in our own hands but Valladolid are coming to us and they need to save themselves under Javi Clemente who I know because I had him as national coach. Since Clemente arrived they have only lost one game to Atletico Madrid and they will be a defensive side looking for their chance. The danger is that everyone thinks it is done and that we are champions – which we aren’t.” â€“ Pep Guardiola.
Real Madridâ€™s breathless chase of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish Primera Division sees its last act on Sunday evening. The Catalan giants may have only lost one game all season and claimed 30 wins out of 37, but Los Blancos remain on their tail and Pep Guardiola will not be relying on Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s side to drop points at Malaga.
Barcelona need the win from their final game of the season to secure 99 points and an unassailable lead from the 98 Real Madrid can secure, which in any other season would have sent the title to the Bernabeu. Adding yet further spice to an incredibly tense final day in Spain is a crazy relegation battle which also involves Valladolid and Malaga who, if the last few months are anything to go by, have very little chance against the two title chasers.
Real Valladolid are one of five teams that can go down with not one relegation spot in next seasonâ€™s Segunda Division decided. Xerez are three points behind Tenerife, Valladolid, Santander and Malaga, but have the better head-to-head record as they face a winnable game at Osasuna. The final minutes of the season could see musical chairs for the relegation spots and this is what makes Valladolid such dangerous opponents for an expectant Nou Camp. (Valladolid are 11.00 for Draw No Bet.)
As Guardiola points out above, Valladolid have been a different side under Javier Clemente. Last week they secured a huge 2-1 home win over Racing Santander at home and they have lost once in seven games which included an impressive victory over Sevilla. Crucially they have conceded just five goals in the seven games Clemente has overseen and three of these came in one match, the 3-1 loss at Atletico Madrid.
Overall this season, Valladolidâ€™s main weakness has been scoring goals. They have claimed just 37 in 37 matches which is one solitary goal ahead of the sides with the worst record in La Liga. Their main goal scoring threat is likely to come from Diego Costa, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.
The 21-year-old striker is their top scorer with eight goals this season and it might be a straight choice to lead the line between the Brazilian and former Manchester United hitman Manucho who has a shocking return of four goals in 27 matches. (2.44 to be under 3.5 goals, 1.34 to be over.)
Clemente will be desperate for a rearguard action of the like Inter Milan produced in the Champions League semi-final second leg. The 60-year-old coach may have huge experience but it is probably asking a lot for the likes of goalkeeper Jacobo, central defender Nivaldo and defensive midfielder Pele to stop the best club side in the world.
Further adding to the anxiety for the current La Liga champions is the fact that talisman and prompter from deep Xavi will miss out due to suspension. He will be joined in the stands by left back Maxwell which means Guardiola is waiting on the fitness of Seydou Keita who could fill in on the left side of defence.
With Xavi missing, Andres Iniesta has chosen a good time to make his comeback from injury. The pale midfielder has been out since the 2-0 win at Real Madrid in April and his guile and creativity was missed, especially in the Champions League defeat to Inter Milan.
Since the exit at the hands of Jose Mourinho and the Nerazzurri, Barcelona have negotiated three tricky fixtures with consecutive 4-1 wins over Villarreal and Tenerife followed by the 3-2 win at Sevilla last week. This match looks likely to be Thierry Henryâ€™s last for Barcelona but he is unlikely to even see some minutes with Bojan Krkic having emerged as first choice over Zlatan Ibrahimovic in recent weeks.
Of course no match preview of Barcelona would be complete without a mention of Lionel Messi. â€œThe Fleaâ€ has been in incredible form this season, claiming 32 goals in the league and it would be a major surprise if Valladolid can stop the Argentine forward.
In January Barca won 3-0 at Valladolid with Messi scoring the third and a similar score line looks likely. The Catalan side did though look nervy last week at Sevilla when they were pegged back from what looked like a comfortable three-goal advantage. An early goal will be crucial but it would be a brave punter who backs Valladolid to stop Pep Guardiola and his free-flowing side.
101gg predicts: Barcelona 4 â€“ Valladolid 0 (5.85)