Atletico Madrid v Valencia, La Liga, February 28, 2010
The biggest fixture in Spain this weekend sees the unpredictable Los Colchoneros take on the leagueâ€™s third placed side Valencia, with everyone wondering which Atleti side will turn up at the Vicente Calderon stadium. Will it be the Rojiblancos who famously inflicted the first league defeat of the season on Barcelona two weeks back, or will it be the Madrid side that lost to Almeria in their last league outing?
In the Europa League, Atletico agian showed their Jekyll and Hyde personality as they recovered from a 1-0 deficit with half an hour remaining to record a hugely impressive 2-1 victory away against Galatasaray. If that version of los Colchoneros decides to show up on Sunday night, los Che better take care.
Having played on Thursday night against the Turks, coach Quique Sanchez Flores could well rotate his squad against Valencia on Sunday night. The biggest concern surrounds Argentine striker Sergio Aguero, who was carried off on a stretcher against Gala after having his lip gashed open.
Should Kun miss out, much of the attacking responsibility will fall on their leading goalscorer Diego Forlan (11 goals and three assists in 30 matches this season) while big things will also be expected from former Arsenal man Jose Antonio Reyes, who has been in sparkling form of late down the left hand side for Atleti. (Atletico are 12/5 to score in both halves.)
With the likes of Jurado and Simao filling out the midfield, as always Atletico look dangerous enough on paper to cause Valencia problems in the final third. But there is a reason why the Madristas are languishing in lowly 14th place in the league, and that surrounds the continuing porous nature of the team’s defence. (5/4 to be under 2.5 goals, 4/5 to be over.)
Between the sticks, 20-year-old keeper Sergio Asenjo is still way off the finished article, and although big things are expected of the Spanish custodian, it speaks volumes that Atleti have only recorded three clean sheets all season. Unfortunately for Asenjo, the defence employed to protect him has been seen to make too many mistakes to, with defenders Tomas Ujfalusi, Alvaro Dominguez and Luis Amaranto Perea all susceptible to switching off during game time. (Atletico are 16/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
Valencia will definitely be looking to take advantage of their hosts well-documented lapses in concentration and seesaw form as they hopes to cement their position as the third best team in Spain. Four points ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla, Los Che will have a tooth and nail fight on their hands to try and scoop one of the treasured Champions League spots in the second half of the season.
Like their hosts, the Mediterranean club moved through to the last 16 of the Europa League. At home against Club Brugge, the Spaniards didnâ€™t have a cruise, requiring extra-time and a brace of goals from Pablo Hernandez to eventually negotiate their way into the next round. Arguably an even tougher test awaits on Sunday.
Los Che are riddled by injury problems, most notably to David Navarro and Jeremy Mathieu. While the former will not return until near the end of Match, the Frenchman is likely to be sidelined for the conclusion of the campaign. Bruno and Jordi Alba have also been toiling of late. Alexis is banned after being dismissed last weekend, while David Alberlda sits out too, leaving the guests short of options.
Even with all those absentees though, Valencia will be able to field a formidable starting XI, spearheaded by arguably the most lethal goalscorer in the division – David Villa. Villa got back on the goal trail earlier this week, bagging a match-winning brace against Getafe to reclaim the lead in the race for the Pichichi from Lionel Messi, and no doubt he’ll be the main goal-threat for the visitors on Sunday night. (Valencia are 11/4 to score in both halves.)
Supported by the likes of David Silva and Ruben Baraga in midfield, arguably the star of the show for Valencia this season though has been Argentine midfielder Ever Banega. 21-year-old Banega was on the verge of a slinking out the club season on a whimper after his mega-money move from Atletico Madrid failed to deliver immediate performances, but this season the holding midfielder has been a player transformed. Aside from performing his basic enforcer duties in front of the Valencia defence, Banega has shown he has far more to his game than just being a destroyer, chipping in with two goals and seven assists already this term.
101gg predicts: Atletico Madrid 1 – Valencia 2 (11/1)
Full match odds here.