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Apr 17, 2016 at 7.30pm UK at Camp Nou
Messi (63')
FT(HT: 0-2)
Rakitic (26' og.), Mina (45')

Preview: Barcelona vs. Valencia

Sports Mole previews Sunday's La Liga clash between Barcelona and Valencia at Camp Nou.

Valencia will attempt to pile more misery on a wounded Barcelona team when Los Che visit the reigning Spanish champions in Sunday night's La Liga contest at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have lost their last two in the league to blow the title race wide open, while they were also eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night.

Valencia have only won one of their last five in the league, but that success came last time out as Pako Ayestaran picked up his first victory at the helm - a 2-1 home success over Sevilla.


Lionel Messi looks disappointed during the La Liga game between Real Sociedad and Barcelona on April 9, 2016© AFP

What has happened to Barcelona? On March 16, the Catalan outfit had just beaten Arsenal to make the quarter-finals of the Champions League and were comfortably clear at the top of La Liga. Another treble was in reach, but the wheels seem to have fallen off over the last few weeks and serious damage has been done.

Indeed, Barcelona's hopes of becoming the first team since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to successfully defend the European Cup ended on Wednesday when they lost 2-0 at Atletico in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The curse of the holders struck again as Luis Enrique's side bowed out 3-2 on aggregate.

The damage cuts deeper than the Champions League, however, with Barcelona also losing their last two in the league. A 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid on April 2 ended their 39-game unbeaten run in all competitions and they then lost 1-0 at Real Sociedad last weekend to throw the title race wide open.

Entering week 33, Barcelona hold a three-point lead over second-placed Atletico and four-point lead over third-placed Real Madrid, but both of the Madrid teams have very winnable matches this weekend. On Saturday, Real Madrid will travel to Getafe, before Atletico host Granada on Sunday.

In theory, Barcelona's lead could be cut to just one point by the time they take to the field against Valencia, but the Catalan outfit have been very strong at home this season - winning 14 of their 16 league matches and losing just once. They have also netted 55 times at Camp Nou in the league and conceded just 12 times in the process.

Lionel Messi, however, is currently on his worst run of scoring form for five years. The Argentine has not netted in his last five games for Barcelona and was once again out of sorts against Atletico. Neymar and Luis Suarez have also hit a dry patch and all three will be keen to return to the scoresheet this weekend.

Enrique's side will face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final next month, but they cannot afford to take their eye off the ball in the league. After this one, they will travel to Deportivo La Coruna next week, before hosting Sporting Gijon and travelling to Real Betis before the end of the month. They will then welcome Espanyol on May 8, before ending the campaign with a trip to relegation-threatened Granada.

Recent form: WWWDLL
Recent form (all competitions): WDLWLL


Denis Cheryshev celebrates scoring during the La Liga game between Valencia and Atletico Madrid on March 6, 2016© AFP

There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a very disappointing campaign for Valencia, who currently sit 14th in the table - some 14 points away from the top six with just six games of the season left.

The experiment of Gary Neville just did not work, with the former Manchester United defender relieved of his duties at the end of March. His assistant - Ayestaran - has taken control of first-team affairs until the end of the season and the Spaniard picked up his first league win last time out - a 2-1 success over Sevilla at the Mestalla.

Mathematically, Valencia are not actually safe from the drop this season, but they have some winnable fixtures coming up, facing out-of-form Eibar and Getafe in their two after this one. They would have expected to be travelling to a confident Barcelona at this stage of the season, but that is simply not the case.

Los Che have only won nine of their 32 league games this season, however, and only managed 36 goals. They have only won one of their last five in Spain's top flight and only picked up five wins at the Mestalla all season.

Paco Alcacer is Valencia's leading scorer in the league this season with nine goals, while Dani Parejo has hit seven from midfield. Alvaro Negredo only has five, however, and the likes of Rodrigo and Santi Mina have struggled to make their mark for a team that were expected to challenge for the top four this season.

There will be a change of manager at the end of the campaign as Valencia attempt to return to former glories, and despite their struggles this term they still boast a squad full of talent. The former Spanish champions would not have relished a trip to Barcelona last month, but they might well fancy pulling off a surprise this time around.

Recent form: WLLLLW
Recent form (all competitions): LLWLLW

Team News

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring with Neymar during the La Liga game between Barcelona and Getafe on March 12, 2016© AFP

Barcelona will be without the services of Arda Turan through suspension, while Sandro Ramirez and Jeremy Mathieu remain on the sidelines for the Catalan giants.

Following the defeat to Atletico, Enrique could make changes at both full-back and midfield, with Sergi Roberto and Rafinha both pushing for selection, should the latter overcome a slight hamstring problem.

Munir El Haddadi is also pushing for a start in the final third, but it seems unlikely that Enrique will take apart his attacking trident of Neymar, Messi and Suarez, despite their struggles in recent weeks.

As for Valencia, Joao Cancelo, Jose Gaya and Denis Cheryshev all remain on the sidelines.

Guilherme Siqueira and Antonio Barragan will continue in the two full-back positions, while Ruben Vezo could also come into the team in a wide midfield area, which would see the Portuguese given defensive duties.

Alcacer is once again expected to be given the nod over Negredo at centre-forward, while Sofiane Feghouli is expected to return to the XI after starting the Sevilla match on the bench.

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Bravo; Roberto, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Rafinha, Busquets, Iniesta; Neymar, Suarez, Messi

Valencia possible starting lineup:
Alves; Barragan, Mustafi, Abdennour, Siqueira; Gomes, Fuego, Parejo; Feghouli, Alcacer, Vezo

Head To Head

Sunday's meeting will be the fourth time that the two teams have met this season.

In the reverse league match in December, Valencia held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw, but they were beaten 8-1 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey, which included a 7-0 defeat at Camp Nou.

Barcelona were also 2-0 winners in the corresponding league match last season, but Valencia have won at Camp Nou in the league as recently as February 2014 - when they recorded a 3-2 success.

The Dugout Podcast

Hit play below to listen to Sports Mole's new podcast 'The Dugout' for our take on the week's biggest football talking points:

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We say: Barcelona 2-0 Valencia

Barcelona are on a poor run of form at the moment and confidence at Camp Nou will be low. They will be keen to bounce back from European disappointment, however, and it is difficult to imagine them putting in another lacklustre performance. Valencia have the players to hurt Barcelona, but we are backing the home side to return to winning ways this weekend with a routine 2-0 victory.

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Wednesday's key events

· Team GB have dominated the men's coxless fours in recent Olympics, winning on each of the last five occasions, but this year they face some stiff competition. They are one of four rowing medal contenders for Great Britain today (2.10am)

· Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus face off again in the women's 200m freestyle final, with the latter having already come out on top in the 400m event (2.41am)
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· Team GB were by far the fastest qualifiers for the men's 4x200m freestyle relay final and will therefore be favourites for another gold in the pool (4.26am)

· Team GB take on New Zealand in the first men's semi-final, having been beaten by reigning champions Fiji but then come from behind to overcome USA on day two (3am)
· The sevens gold medal match takes place at Tokyo Stadium, with the winner of Great Britain vs. New Zealand taking on either Argentina or Fiji (10am)

· Joe Fraser and James Hall compete for Team GB in the men's all-around final (11.15am-2.10pm)

· Anna Shackley will take part in the women's road time trial (from 3.30am)
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· Jack Laugher bids to retain his men's 3m synchro diving title alongside new partner Daniel Goodfellow (7am)

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