Valencia v Real Madrid, La Liga, December 12, 2009
Every game Real Madrid play this season is analysed through the lens of Florentino Perezâ€™s Galactico 2.0 experiment. For this match at Valencia though Los Blancos are without â‚¬159 million worth of talent and could well lose ground in the title race.
Brazilian Kaka is out until early 2010 with a groin injury and Cristiano Ronaldoâ€™s sending off in the match against Almeria last Saturday means the Portuguese winger will also miss the clash between second and third in the Spanish Primera Division.
There is also a major doubt over schemer Xabi Alonso (11/2 to score) who picked up an injury in the Champions League win at Marseille. The former Liverpool midfielder will be a big loss after settling in well at Real, producing some effective displays in front of the defence. (Real are 11/4 to keep a clean sheet.)
Despite some hiccups this season, most notably in the Copa del Rey to minnows Alcorcon, there have been signs in recent weeks that Manuel Pellegrini is building a real team at the Bernabeu that will be a sum of its very expensive parts.
Real Madrid have now lost just once in their last nine games and that defeat, at the Nou Camp, was arguably their best performance of the season. The 1-0 reverse at Barcelona came with Kaka and Ronaldo playing behind Gonzalo Higuain (16/5 to score & Real win) and it looks like much of the creativity will have to come from Rafael van der Vaart (16/1 to score first & Real win) at the Mestalla.
Higuain and Karim Benzema (13/2 to score first, 15/8 to score anytime) could well be tasked with scoring the goals to defeat Valencia and Mamadou Diarra will also come in to midfield if Alonso doesnâ€™t make it, to join up with namesake Lassana. Raul Albiol (40/1 to score first) returns to his former club after his summer move and the central defender will be buoyed after scoring in the midweek Champions League win in France.
The big doubt surrounding Real is that they have lost to virtually every major side they have faced this season. Defeats to Sevilla, AC Milan and Barca have signalled that the current Galactico project needs time. Valencia are undoubtedly a top side and will test Casillas and co with a vociferous home support willing them forward.
Los Che are third in La Liga, three points behind their opponents on Saturday. But for a disappointing home draw with Mallorca at the end of November they would be firmly in the mix for the title. As it is they could still surprise everybody by staying in touch with Real Madrid and Barcelona for as long as possible.
Valencia will be without flying winger David Silva who has a knee injury and they will as ever be relying on the creativity of Juan Mata (13/2 to score first, 15/8 to score anytime) and the goals of David Villa (15/2 to score first & Valencia win). The Spanish striker was at one stage last summer close to becoming a Galactico himself but in the end his club priced him out a move to both Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The 28-year-old hitman has scored in his last four matches and will be confident of sticking one past international team mate Iker Casillas. Villa and his team mates will remember their 3-0 win (20/1 to repeat the scoreline) over Real last May and with a host of Spaniards in their side should not be overawed by the occasion.
101gg predicts: Valencia 2 â€“ Real Madrid 2 (10/1)
Full match odds here.