New-look Valencia face toughest test yet in Atletico

Valencia`s fine early season form will be put to the test when they host champions Atletico Madrid in the game of the La Liga weekend on Saturday.

AFP| Updated: Oct 03, 2014, 07:08 AM IST

Madrid: Valencia`s fine early season form will be put to the test when they host champions Atletico Madrid in the game of the La Liga weekend on Saturday.

Los Che sit just two points adrift of leaders Barcelona in second after an unbeaten start to life under new boss Nuno Espirito Santo after six games.

However, they will face their toughest test of the campaign to date as Atletico visit fresh from beating Italian champions Juventus in the Champions League in midweek.

And in-form striker Paco Alcacer, who has scored four times already this season, is hoping Diego Simeone`s men will suffer a hangover from their efforts on Wednesday.

"We have prepared very well all week. It is clear that Atletico played a very hard game in the Champions League and could be a little tired," said the Spanish international.

Alcacer, though, is aware of the challenge that faces his side as they aim to compete with Atletico to challenge the traditional powers of Barca and Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

"We have already seen last year what Atletico can do. They won the league and got to the final of the Champions League.

"The numbers are in their favour and they are the favourites, but we are playing at home and have to go for it."

Valencia will again have to do without big money summer signing Alvaro Negredo, as he now hopes to make his debut for the club after the international break in two weeks` time.

Atletico should have captain Gabi back fit after he missed out in midweek with an ankle injury and Simeone could hand starts to Antoine Griezmann and Alessio Cerci as he looks to freshen up his starting line-up.

A win for Valencia would take them temporarily at least back to the top of the table as Barca are in action later on Saturday away at Rayo Vallecano.

The Catalans were beaten for the first time this season away to Paris Saint-Germain and also saw their run without conceding a goal come to an end in a 3-2 defeat.

Claudio Bravo will return in goal, whilst Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra are expected to come back into the centre of defence after Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu were found wanting in Paris.

The positives for Barca from that match came from Lionel Messi and Neymar as both scored excellent goals to continue their fine form so far this season.

And Messi believes their on the field relationship will flourish during the Brazilian`s second season in Barcelona.

"It`s the second season that we`re playing together and we`re starting to know each other better," Messi said on Thursday.

"Also this season the Barca strikers are playing more in the middle of the pitch so we can pick each other out more and find connections. It`s a pleasure to play with him."

Despite a run of three consecutive league wins, Real Madrid are still languishing down in sixth, four points behind Barca.

Los Blancos could be even further adrift by the time they host struggling Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Athletic finished fourth last season to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 16 years, but are currently only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti handed a rest from the start to Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema in Wednesday`s 2-1 win over Ludogorets Razgrad.

The latter three were all needed though as they were introduced before Benzema struck a late winner in Bulgaria and will return to the starting line-up on Sunday.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Getafe v Cordoba (1900)

Saturday

Valencia v Atletico Madrid (1400), Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona (1600), Eibar v Levante (1800), Malaga v Granada (2000), Almeria v Elche (2000)

Sunday

Sevilla v Deportivo la Coruna (1000), Celta Vigo v Villarreal (1500), Espanyol v Real Sociedad (1700), Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (1900)