Liga Preview: Valencia-Espanyol
Valencia - Espanyol | News Archive
A midfield linchpin for the Ches...Ruben Baraja (Reuters)
Valencia are just three wins from their first Liga crown since 1971. The pressure from Real Madrid has been constant, but the Ches just seem to keep on grinding out results, and although a league championship win wouldn't be a victory for attacking football, it would be just reward for a team who never give up and display terrific organisational and defensively solidarity every time they take to the pitch.
Few could argue that they didn't deserve their 1-0 win against Deportivo La Coruna in last week's fearsomely competitive game at the Mestella. True, the goal was a fortunate one, with England's most hated man Aldo Duscher slicing into his own net, but the Ches, lead by Pablo Aimar, were much the more adventurous team throughout and could have scored three or four on another day.
Undoubtedly the key to Valencia's success in this second half of the season has been the form of Aimar and Ruben Baraja in midfield. The little Argentine has dazzled Liga crowds with his vast array of skills, close control, and fine long-range passing, while Baraja is generally regarded as the best box-to-box player in Spain and has been a pillar of strength over the past few months. His midfield partnership with David Albelda provides a terrific shield to the back four.
So what of Espanyol, the masters of mid-table obscurity? With limited resources coach Paco Flores has again done well, despite many calls for his head throughout the season. The loan signing of Uruguayan forward Antonio Pacheco has proved a shrewd one, while his partner-in-crime Raul Tamudo is enjoying the best season of his career.
Away from home, Flores' side are the worst in La Liga and have collected just one win all season. At Montjuic, though, it has been a different story. Deportivo, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Celta Vigo have all come away empty handed, meaning the Olimpic Stadium is now regarded as one of the toughest venues La Liga has to offer. And this despite the paltry crowds that turn out for their side each week.
Valencia Last Six Matches: LWWWDW
The only defeat came at home to Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup, where Rafa Benitez' men totally dominated for 80 minutes and yet came away beaten. Since then they have edged past Osasuna and Tenerife in La Liga, thrashed Real Sociedad, drawn at Mallorca and beaten Deportivo.
Espanyol Last Six Matches: LLLWLW
Recent wins over Celta Vigo and Villarreal have ensured that the Budgies will be playing Primiera Liga football next season. Otherwise, it's a pretty miserable tale with defeats against Real Sociedad, Alaves, Mallorca and Deportivo.
Valencia- coach Benitez has almost a full compliment of players to choose from for this clash. Only right-back Curro Torres misses out through suspension. Miguel Angulo, who played as a centre-forward last week, could fill in. Mista or Juan Sanchez would therefore take the lone striking role. Another boost for Benitez is the possible return of Mauricio Pellegrino from injury. He could replace Miroslav Djukic.
PL- 4-4-1-1- Cañizares, Angulo, Ayala, Pellegrino or Djukic, Carboni, Albelda, Baraja, Rufete, Kily González, Aimar, Mista
Espanyol- Albert Lopo is banned and will be replaced by Antonio Soldevilla. Flores is also without Martin Posse who is out for the rest of the season. The only doubt for the coach is whether to play Francisco Palencia or Antonio Pacheco up front with Raul Tamudo.
PL- 4-4-2- Argensó, Navas, Soldevilla, Rotchen, Ricardo Cavas, Alex Fernández, Paulo Sousa, De Lucas, Roger, Pacheco or Palencia, Tamudo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pablo Aimar (Valencia)- the little Argentine is finally fulfilling his huge promise. He provides the vital link between midfield and attack with his superb dribbling and passing. He's also been finding the net regularly, making him the all-round player. If only Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa could find a place for him in the national team.
Raul Tamudo (Espanyol)- the little Spanish international is in the form of his life. 15 goals for the season is a career high, and he has netted three in his last four games. A contender for a place in Jose Camacho's World Cup squad.