15:15 GMT, Saturday 17th March, Estadio Mestalla (Valencia, Spain)
Valencia have proved unable to maintain their early season title-chasing form, yet would surely have settled for a top four spot back in August. Marcelino’s men consolidated their fourth-placed position with an important win against Sevilla last week and are now 11 points clear of fifth.
A run of three consecutive losses towards the end of January saw them in danger of sliding out of the Champions League qualifying places, but they have recovered well, with five wins in their last six La Liga fixtures.
When Abelardo was appointed manager of Alaves on 1st December, his new side were firmly rooted at the bottom of La Liga. The former Barcelona centre-back has proved more than up to the task and has dragged his troops clear of the bottom three.
There are currently 11 points separating Alaves and the relegation zone, a very useful buffer indeed. They are, however, in danger of complacency, having lost three of their last four games and are not safe yet.
Last Time Out
Sevilla 0-2 Valencia (La Liga)
Los Che all but secured themselves a place in the top four with a clinical performance away at Sevilla. The visitors saw very little of the ball, having only 38% of possession and managed less than half of Sevilla’s 21 shots on target.
The home side were fired-up and began by putting Valencia under a significant amount of pressure during the early exchanges.
A sublime moment of control from Rodrigo, followed by a calm finish, gave the away team the lead after 25 minutes.
Sevilla continued the press and Valencia had to rely on both the crossbar and goalkeeping heroics from Neto to stay in front.
Some weak defending in the 68th minute saw Rodrigo slip beyond the defence to score his second of the night and secure an important win.
Alaves 1-3 Real Betis (La Liga)
Alaves lost back-to-back games for the first time under Abelardo as they were outclassed by an impressive Real Betis outfit.
The home side were out-muscled in the middle of the park and only achieved one shot on target in the full 90 minutes.
Betis striker Loren Moron squeezed the ball in between Fernando Pacheco’s legs to give the visitors a 23rd-minute lead.
Javi Garcia fired in a second a minute before the break, taking advantage of Alaves’ failure to effectively clear from a corner.
The home crowd were given some rare hope in the 67th minute, as Ruben Sobrino found space to pull one back for his side.
In truth, the hope was short-lived and Loren Moron added deserved emphasis to the scoreline with another goal in the 78th minute.
Marcelino has a number of injury concerns to contend with on Saturday.
Defender Javier Jimenez is still out with a cruciate ligament injury and is joined on the injury list by striker Santi Mina who is recovering from a thigh problem.
There are also doubts over the match fitness of defender Gabriel (knock) and midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia (hamstring) despite both players participating in training this week.
Abelardo will have to do without the services of defender Carlos Martin Vigaray who is still recovering from a knee injury.
More positively, this weekend should see the return of Swedish international striker John Guidetti to the starting lineup.
Key Battle: Rodrigo Moreno(Valencia) vs Victor Laguardia (Alaves)
Rodrigo has grown in stature within this Valencia side as the season has progressed. The 27-year-old forward has been an effective supporting striker for Simone Zaza, but has now become the leading scorer for Los Che with 12 goals.
He has found himself drop below the promising Santi Mina in recent months, but has taken full advantage of the 22-year-old’s current injury absence to reassert his importance.
Rodrigo has scored three goals in his last two games and his present form will give Marcelino some welcome selection headaches when Mina returns from his absence.
Alaves have, for the most part, looked defensively solid under Abelardo. In recent weeks, however, they appear to have lost concentration at the back and need players to rediscover the focus of the past few months. Victor Laguardia has found favour under the new management and has played an important role in his side’s resurgence.
Against Real Betis last week, the 28-year-old centre back looked uncharacteristically nervy and was positionally poor. Laguardia will hope to return to his impressive form with a solid outing against Valencia this Saturday.
Mission accomplished for Valencia?
For much of the first half of the season, it appeared that Valencia would challenge Barcelona for the title. Ernesto Valverde’s side have gone on to break records in an historically brilliant season and Los Che have understandably been unable to keep up.
It remains, however, a highly impressive season for Marcelino’s men, who look set to play in the next edition of the Champions League. Two consecutive 12th-placed finishes in their last couple of seasons have seen the reputation of the club diminish somewhat at the European level and fans will be delighted to see their side return to the top table.
There are ten games left in La Liga and Valencia will likely need only to win at least six of those remaining fixtures to maintain their top four status. Only one of those ten matches are against a side from the top five (Barcelona) and they are certainly well-placed to achieve their Champions League aspiration.
Can Abelardo steady the ship?
Last week’s heavy home defeat at the hands of Real Betis was the first instance in which Alaves have failed to respond to a loss with an immediate victory in their next match since the appointment of Abelardo in December. The Basque side have now lost three of their last four games and are looking defensively suspect.
An almost ever-present atmosphere of positivity around the club has existed since the arrival of the new manager and that optimism has remained largely unchallenged by results.
There is, however, a danger that early season tension may be returning to the Mendizorrotza stadium and Abelardo’s first challenge will be to keep his side focused and return to winning ways as soon as possible.
Alaves remain 11 points clear of relegation, yet there is still time left in the season for a terrible run of form to see them back in a scrap to avoid the drop.
Prediction: Valencia 2-1 Alaves
Alaves have been a side transformed by the arrival of Abelardo and it is unlikely that they will take too long to return to form. Saturday’s meeting with Valencia, however, could prove too difficult a task for the Basques and they should be content to come away with a narrow defeat. The home side are in buoyant mood after last week’s important win against Sevilla and should prove too much for Alaves this weekend.
Will Aberlardo’s Alaves return to winning ways?
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