MADRID: A reborn Valencia make the most daunting trip in European football at the moment to face Real Madrid on Sunday enthused with a swagger and confidence lost over two disastrous seasons.
Still one of Spain’s biggest clubs based on budget and support, Valencia have finished 12th in the past two campaigns as Singaporean owner Peter Lim’s tenure has been littered with a series of sacked coaches and expensive mistakes in the transfer market.
However, with former Villarreal boss Marcelino Garcia Toral now in charge, Lim has finally followed the advice of fans to hire an experienced La Liga coach with an impressive track record.
Valencia opened their La Liga campaign with a 1-0 win over Las Palmas last weekend and will be stronger for the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu with Gabriel Paulista, Jeison Murillo and Geoffrey Kongodbia set to make their debuts.
Following a clear change in policy by Lim all three have excelled in La Liga before and show a desire from Marcelino to recreate his success at Villarreal by building from the back.
Gabriel, who previously worked with Marcelinho at Villarreal has joined on a permanent deal, whilst Murillo and Kondogbia have arrived on a season-long loan from Inter Milan.
“We have signed two central defenders that come from Arsenal and Inter, speak Spanish and know La Liga,” said Marcelino.
“They are important factors. One of them I know very well and Murillo is a great player. They will bring us a competitive edge.”
Valencia will need to be at their best defensively if they are to have any chance of escaping with even a point from the Bernabeu.
Madrid haven’t failed to score for 16 months and have made light of Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence through suspension in the early part of the season.
The Portuguese will serve the third of his five-match ban for pushing a referee, but Real are more stretched at the back with captain Sergio Ramos also suspended leaving Zinedine Zidane with only Nacho and Raphael Varane to choose from a centre-back.
Further forward Zidane is spoilt for choice with Marco Asensio expected to miss out once more to Isco, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in attack.
Barcelona will look to put another turbulent week off the field behind them when they travel to Alaves on Saturday.
The Catalan giants launched legal action against Neymar for breach of contract on Tuesday as the Brazilian partied with a host of his former teammates including Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Suarez is still sidelined by a knee injury, but Barca boss Ernesto Valverde will be able to welcome back Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique from the side that beat Real Betis 2-0 last weekend in emotional circumstances last weekend just days after a pair of terrorist attacks in Catalonia left 15 dead and over 120 injured.
Despite Barca’s troubles the opening weekend suggested they remain Real’s only serious title rivals as Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal all dropped points.
Atletico will have to do without the suspended Antoine Griezmann as they look to kickstart their campaign at Las Palmas after the French international was hit with a two-match ban for swearing at the referee as he was sent-off in a 2-2 draw at newly-promoted Girona.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Real Sociedad v Villarreal (1815), Real Betis v Celta Vigo (2000)
Alaves v Barcelona (1615), Levante v Deportivo la Coruna, Girona v Malaga (1815), Las Palmas v Atletico Madrid (2015)
Espanyol v Leganes, Eibar v Athletic Bilbao (1615), Getafe v Sevilla (1815), Real Madrid v Valencia (2015)