Valencia's title credentials will face one
of their biggest tests of the season when they take on Primera Liga
leaders Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Under former coach and current Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez,
Valencia won two league titles in 2002 and 2004, and lifted the UEFA Cup.
But they lost their way last season under first Claudio Ranieri and then
Antonio Lopez, and took a gamble by appointing the inexperienced coach
of Getafe, Quique Sanchez Flores, in May.
The former Real Madrid and Valencia player has instilled Benitez-like
resilience in his side, who have only lost once in seven league starts
and are fifth in the table, three points behind Real.
In Spain striker David Villa, who they bought from Real Zaragoza for 12
million euros in June, Valencia look to have found a consistent
goalscorer. He has already netted six times this season.
"In reality they are just another three points. But to win in their
stadium would be a huge psychological boost and would give us great
self-belief," said Valencia captain David Albelda.
Real have put together a run of six consecutive wins in all competitions,
but lost leading scorer Ronaldo to an ankle injury during their 3-0
derby win over Atletico last weekend.
"Real will miss Ronaldo as any team would. But it is a relief for us he
won't be playing," Albelda said.
"He is a born goalscorer and when he gets a chance he always puts it
Real will also be without Brazilian forward Julio Baptista, who strained
knee ligaments their 4-1 Champions League win over Rosenborg Trondheim,
and right back Michel Salgado.
Valencia's Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar has recovered from
gastroenteritis and is available, while Villa returns from a one-match
Sixth-placed Barcelona, who trail Real by five points, have home
advantage against surprise early pace-setters Osasuna who are level on
points with Real in second place.
Osasuna's Mexican coach Javier Aguirre has been pursuing a strict policy
of rotation which appears to be paying off as the Navarrans have won
three on the trot without conceding a goal. Barcelona are still
struggling to rediscover their championship-winning form, as an
uninspiring 0-0 draw with Panathinaikos in the Champions League on
Boardroom battles have provided coach Frank Rijkaard with unwanted
off-field distractions and he also has a number of injury worries.
Mexican defender Rafael Marquez is struggling to recover from a bruised
ankle, while French winger Ludovic Giuly, defender Damia Abella and
versatile midfielder Gabri are all doubts.
Portuguese midfielder Deco has broken a finger but is expected to play.