Real Madrid vs. Valencia: Complete La Liga Preview, Team News and Prediction
We are now just hours away from the start of the 2012-2013 La Liga season and it could not have come any sooner for the fans.
While the transfer window has not yet closed, this weekend will give us a strong look into the rosters of all 20 teams this season.
The league kicks off Saturday, but the first week's headliner does not start until Sunday when Real Madrid welcome Valencia to the Santiago Bernabeu.
The last two encounters between these two sides have been intense and both came down to the final minutes.
Kickoff is at 5:00 PM UCT and Bleacher Report will be here to guide you through as Michael Cummings will be blogging live about the match.
As you wait for the biggest La Liga match of the weekend, check out this preview to whet your appetite in preparation for the game.
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The defending league champions enter their first major test without any new signings, but with almost everyone at full health.
Pepe has a sore ankle, but the Portuguese star is expected to start.
Fabio Coentrao has been tipped to start while Marcelo will be on the bench after a short rest from international duty.
Los Che start their new season with lots of excitement and many changes.
Unai Emery has left the club, with Mauricio Pellegrino now at the helm, while lots of new players have arrived.
The biggest concern for Valencia is the health of Roberto Soldado. He will be a game-time decision and if he cannot go, look for Jonas to start up front.
Ever Banega and Sergio Canales are still recovering from knee injuries, so Valencia's midfield is tough to predict going in.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Khedira, Alonso, Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
Valencia: Guaita; Peirera, Ruiz, Rami, Mathieu; Gago, Costa, Feghouli, Guardado, Jonas; Soldado
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For a more detailed positional matchup analysis, check out my article here.
The big areas will be on the wings and in central midfield, as those are the areas Real Madrid will dominate most.
This will be the biggest problem for Los Che in the opener.
Pereira will be welcomed to La Liga by facing off against his national team captain while Jeremy Mathieu will have his hands full against Angel di Maria.
Di Maria recently stated that his goal is to become a top-10 player in the near future and he will aim to start his season off in a big way.
Jeremy Mathieu will probably be replaced in the transfer window, but right now, he is the starter. That matchup is the biggest mismatch and Di Maria could be in for a huge night in Madrid.
As of right now, it is unknown who will partner with Fernand Gago in Valencia's midfield. Captain David Albelda will likely start on the bench while Dani Parejo is a bit too offensive-minded.
That leaves Tino Costa as the favorite, but whoever covers for Banega while he is injured, they will struggle to match Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in midfield.
Form and Talk
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There is no question about who is the hotter team coming in, based on preseason results.
Real Madrid won four of its five matches, with the lone loss coming against a strong Benfica side.
In those five matches, Los Merengues scored a total of 16 goals, with the biggest win coming in a completely dominating 5-1 win over AC Milan.
Valencia's preseason has been solid, but unspectacular—on and off the pitch.
Los Che beat Tottenham 2-0, but were then outclassed by Eintracht Frankfurt two days later.
There were plenty of inconsistencies off the field as well, with plenty of new signings arriving with Pellegrino.
Ever Banega had another incident with his car that caused quite a lot of concern as the midfielder totaled his vehicle, but somehow came away unharmed.
Real Madrid look the much more united and well-prepared side going into the opener.
What They're Saying
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Ricardo Costa sees the opener as a key match as they look for a solid season. Via AS, he said the following:
"It's the first league game and [Real Madrid] play at home, but we must do our part, get our signings used to the team and start the season with a good result to try to bridge the gap in the table with Real Madrid and Barcelona."
Teammate Sofiane Feghouli showed confidence in Valencia's chances when he said the following Wednesday at a news conference after the morning training:
"On Sunday, I think we can achieve a good result. I feel very well at the club and now I'm focused on the Real Madrid match. The important thing is that Valencia does not make mistakes."
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Under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid has suffered early setbacks near the start of every season. On the other hand, Valencia has won each of their last five season openers.
While I do expect a close match, I think Real Madrid will take all three points and end Valencia's streak.
In the end, the matchups out wide and in midfield will be too much for Los Che to overcome.
If Real Madrid can score in the first 15 minutes, Madrid could win by a couple of goals in the end.