17:30 GMT, Sunday 24th January, Estadio Mestalla (Valencia, Spain)
Valencia have shown some much-needed signs of recovery in recent weeks, after a run of four consecutive defeats in all competitions saw them slip out of both the title-race and the Copa del Rey. Two back-to-back wins have seen them steady the ship somewhat and they retain a comfortable seven points distance between themselves and fifth-placed Sevilla.
Nine points separate Los Che from second-placed Atletico Madrid, but they still have a strong chance of being able to finish above champions Real Madrid, who are only two points ahead heading into this round of fixtures.
This season has largely been one of frustration for Real Sociedad who have faded dramatically after a promising start. They have won only two of their last seven La Liga games and sit in 13th-place, nine points adrift of the top six.
Failure to get past Salzburg in the Europa League Round of 32 has brought even more gloom to Real Sociedad’s season and the Basque side are in serious danger of slipping even further down the table. They have the attacking quality in their squad to challenge the very best in the league and victory against a top four side could kick-start their season.
Last Time Out
Malaga 1-2 Valencia (La Liga)
Valencia found themselves lucky to escape with all three points against bottom-club Malaga.
Despite having 66% of possession, Los Che only managed one shot on target in the first 80 minutes until a late comeback saw them over the line.
Brown Ideye gave the home side the lead after 27 minutes, having found himself completely unmarked from a corner.
Valencia continued to probe and a header from Francis Coquelin drew them level with ten minutes left to play.
Malaga began to unravel in the final stages and a late penalty from Daniel Parejo secured the victory for the visitors.
Salzburg 2-1 (4-3 on aggregate) Real Sociedad (UEFA Europa League-Round of 32-Second Leg)
Real Sociedad headed into their second leg fixture against Austrian side Salzburg having drawn at home.
The hosts took the lead in the tie after only ten minutes, after a fine finish from Munas Dabbur.
The scores were brought level on the night by a header from Raul Navas in the 28th-minute.
A second yellow card for the goalscorer Navas after 70 minutes left Real Sociedad short on numbers.
With space to exploit, Salzburg found themselves being awarded a 74th-minute penalty, which Valon Berisha duly converted, giving his side victory on the night and knocking out the visitors.
Marcelino will have to do without the services of defensive duo Javi Jimenez (cruciate ligament) and Ezequiel Garay (leg) who are both yet to recover from long term injuries.
Attacker Andreas Pereira (thigh) and midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia (foot) are unlikely to start as they have not yet returned to match fitness.
More positively, centre back Jeison Murillo and striker Rodrigo Moreno should make their returns from injury.
Real Sociedad Lineup
Eusebio Sacristan has a number of injury concerns to contend with this weekend.
Striker Willian Jose (foot) is still a few weeks away from recovery and is joined on the injury bench by defender Carlos Martinez (shoulder).
Midfielder Xabier Prieto (groin) and defender Hector Moreno (hip) are still struggling for fitness and are doubts to start on Sunday.
Further concerns hang over the fitness of goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli (thigh) and centre back Raul Navas (knock) who have not trained at full intensity this week.
Key Battle: Rodrigo Moreno (Valencia) vs Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad)
Rodrigo has had a decent season so far, scoring nine goals in La Liga. The loss of form of top-scorer Simone Zaza has put more pressure on the shoulders of the Spaniard, yet he himself is struggling for goals. The 26-year-old has not scored since January 17th and needs to up his game if he going to provide adequate support to the promising Santi Mina.
Rodrigo has all the qualities to play as a top level support striker and is equally comfortable in the role of provider as he is finishing off moves. If Valencia are to keep their place in the top four then they need the Brazilian-born forward to be at the top of his game.
Centre back Diego Llorente was in brilliant form during the first half of the season, yet he has been playing far below that level of late. The 24-year-old has begun to look nervy in recent games, no doubt a result of playing behind a midfield who so regularly give the ball awa to the opposition.
Llorente is a very good defender who is being let down by the rest of his defensive unit. Unfortunately for Real Sociedad, rather than inspiring others to raise their game to his standards, he is allowing his own ability to slip down to the somewhat poorer level of his teammates.
200 games up for talisman Parejo
Captain Daniel Parejo should play his 200th match for Valencia on Sunday. The central midfielder has been a faithful servant of Los Che for the last seven years and has become a real fan favourite at Mestalla. A product of the Real Madrid youth academy, Parejo has found a home on the east coast, following spells at QPR and Getafe.
The 28-year-old has enjoyed a fine season thus far, scoring six and assisting six in La Liga. He is also a reliable penalty-taker, having scored more times from the spot than any other player this season, and brings a real sense of calm to the Valencia midfield. Much of his side’s good form this year have come as a result of Parejo’s multi-faceted box-to-box style and he may yet lead Valencia to a Champions League return.
Real Sociedad’s awful away form
Real Sociedad have been particularly bad on their travels this season. Eusebio’s men have only won once away from home since September 10th and have lost their last three games on the road.
La Real look defensively sloppy regardless of where they are playing, yet they appear particularly vulnerable as visitors. They have conceded an average of two goals a game when playing away from home, a record which has negated the majority of their attractive attacking play.
Without a solid defensive platform, Real Sociedad are vulnerable to being overloaded by the opposition, which seems to happen particularly frequently when they are the away side.
Prediction: Valencia 3-1 Real Sociedad
Valencia are not at their best and this game could be exactly what they need to rediscover their attacking flow. Real Sociedad have shown little interest in defending this season and will leave space for Los Che to exploit. Any game involving Eusebio’s inconsistent side is difficult to predict, but they have found away games particularly tricky to negotiate this season.
Will Valencia keep their place in the top four?
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