The Tourmalet is back

Barça go to Mestalla tonight (22.00h CET) for the first of a series of tough away matches. Xavi and Alves are back after missing the Mallorca game, and Guardiola will also travel.

Roger Bogunyà

March 2, 2011 01:41 PM

Barcelona (FCB).- Recently, Barça’s seasons always seem to have involved a run of matches of such difficulty that the local press has compared them to the epic Tourmalet of the Tour de France. This year’s begins with a trip to Valencia, followed by Sevilla (March 13), Villarreal (April 2 or 3) and Real Madrid (April 16). There is no doubt that Barça’s league title aspirations are pinned on a good performance in these games, and one of the good signs is that the Catalans took 12 points out of 12 from the home matches against the same teams. Guardiola has been having back trouble in recent days, but despite missing training on Tuesday, he will be travelling to Valencia.

Change of lead

When Valencia came to the Camp Nou, they were top of the table after six games, but things are very different now. Barça, who have gone 19 games and 13 months without losing an away league match, are the runaway league leaders. One of the biggest focuses of attention will naturally be David Villa, who is returning to his former club, while Alves and Xavi, who missed the game with Mallorca through suspension and injury respectively, are back in the side.

Mestalla part one

Valencia have notably vociferous supporters and the Barça players can expect to be received by a hostile atmosphere this evening, as they did on their last two visits, neither of which were wins. Mestalla is actually the only top flight stadium where Guardiola has never won as a manager, and breaking that duck would be a good omen for another visit to the same venue on April 20, this time to face Real Madrid in the cup final.

Valencia on form

But it’s the league that comes first, and Barcelona have a tough opponent tonight. Valencia are now third in the league and haven’t lost for eleven games, since going down 2-0 at the Bernabéu. Emery is well versed in methods for breaking down the FCB machine, as shown at the Camp Nou earlier this season, when his side played an almost perfect first half and came very close to a surprise win. The biggest loss he will have to cope with on Wednesday night is that of Aduriz.