Spotlight on Villa as Barca tackle leaders Valencia
Madrid: Champions Barcelona welcome unbeaten leaders Valencia to Camp Nou on Saturday in what will be a special match for David Villa who faces his old club for the first time since jumping ship in the summer.
Barcelona sit fourth three points behind pacesetters Valencia and need to rediscover the winning formula at home having picked up just four points from nine scoring a meager two goals in front of their home fans.
Valencia have won five and drawn one of their opening six matches and the daunting trip to Camp Nou provides them with the chance to prove they are genuine title contenders.
All eyes will be on man of the moment Villa who spent five glorious years at Valencia, scoring over a century of league goals, before joining Barcelona for 40 million euros in the summer.
Villa, 28, equalled Raul Gonzalez’s national record of 44 goals, scoring in Spain’s 3-2 Euro 2012 qualifying win in Scotland on Tuesday and now hopes to shoot down his old employer.
“Valencia are the best team at the moment because of where they are in the table and the way they are playing,” said Villa.
“It will be a very special game for me against a team where I felt really comfortable for five seasons and it brings back a lot of good memories.”
Valencia were a distant third last season - finishing 28 points behind champions Barcelona - but have begun well despite the sales of Villa and David Silva in the summer.
“We are not going to pop the champagne cork prematurely,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery. “We have had a good start but now we have some tough games to overcome.”
Barcelona are however set to be without key playmaker Xavi who missed Spain’s Euro qualifiers due to his troublesome achilles tendon.
Real, two points behind Valencia in third, have yet to be defeated under coach Jose Mourinho and travel to Malaga on Saturday.
Mourinho’s side crushed Deportivo La Coruna 6-1 in their last league match to record their biggest win under the Portuguese coach.
It was the first time Mourinho’s Real have really clicked and he emphasised the importance of the team working as a whole rather than relying on individual star quality.
“In a great team you can’t have eleven great players,” said Mourinho. “If you have eleven great players you don’t win anything.”
Defender Sergio Ramos is poised to miss the Malaga trip after injuring his right knee in Spain’s 3-2 win over Scotland so the versatile Alvaro Arbeloa is expected to cover at right back.
Mid-table Malaga have lost all three of their home matches this season but Real have been far from convincing on the road with a solitary win from their three outings.
Second-placed Villarreal are just a point behind Valencia and are targeting a sixth successive league win at promoted Hercules on Monday.
Villarreal’s strike pair of Brazilian Nilmar and Italian Giuseppe Rossi have been pivotal scoring nine goals between them in the first six matches.
In other matches, Getafe host Atletico Madrid at the Coliseum on Saturday in the capital derby between two sides who are level on 10 points.
New Sevilla coach Gregorio Manzano masterminded a 3-1 home victory over Atletico in his first league match in charge and hopes to continue his perfect start by winning at Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Sevilla are in fifth five points adrift of leaders Valencia.
At the bottom, Deportivo La Coruna and Real Zaragoza go in search of their elusive first wins of the new season against Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao respectively on Sunday.