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Barcelona vs. Real Valladolid: Key Battles to Watch in La Liga

Jason PettigroveContributor IMay 15, 2013

Barcelona vs. Real Valladolid: Key Battles to Watch in La Liga

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    Barcelona vs. Real Valladolid is one of only three matches—just 270 minutes of playing time—that are left until the end of La Liga season 2012/13.

    La Blaugrana will finish the season on top of the pile, where they have been since the first week of the season, and there is still the carrot of having something to aim for should they so desire.

    A record-equalling 100 points awaits them if they can win all three remaining fixtures, starting with this weekend's home game.

    The visitors arrive in Catalonia in patchy form.

    Two wins, two draws and three losses in their last seven La Liga outings mean that they find themselves languishing in 12th place with nothing but pride to play for. 

    Judging by their results on previous trips to Camp Nou, Valladolid are likely to have their work cut out.

    It was way back in November 1997 when the visitors last left Barcelona with all three points, and Barca have won the last six fixtures between the two, scoring 21 goals and conceding just two.

    Let's take a look at where the game may be won or lost.

Patrick Ebert vs. Xavi Hernadez

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    Patrick Ebert is likely to dictate the tempo of Valladolid's midfield thrust.

    A typically efficient German, his individual score of 771 on Squawka.com over the course of the season placed him as the highest-ranked Valladolid outfield player in performance terms.

    He was La Pucela's man of the match in their recent 4-3 defeat against Real Madrid, and a performance of similar industry will be required if the visitors are to garner any sort of success in this game.

    It is the work rate of Ebert that catches the eye, and with a summer transfer likely the player will want to impress any suitors.

    Assuming Tito Vilanova doesn't take the opportunity to rest any of his star names, then Xavi Hernandez will no doubt try to emulate his 94 percent pass completion rate the last time these two sides met.

    Better teams than Real Valladolid have arrived at Camp Nou this season only to see their dream of a win evaporate at the hands of Barca's midfield maestro.

    John Drayton of the Daily Mail noted

    Xavi enjoyed an remarkable evening: completing a staggering 100 per cent of his 96 passes in the match with Paris St Germain.  

    Many will point to the introduction of talisman Lionel Messi midway through the second-half as the key to the club's much-improved fortunes, but it was Xavi who produced an immaculate midfield masterclass. 

    Allowing Xavi any time on the ball will be tantamount to handing the game to Barcelona on a plate. 

Antonio Rukavina vs. Cristian Tello

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    Real Valladolid's minus-4 goal difference tells it's own story.

    Serbian international right-back and free-transfer-signing Antonio Rukavina hasn't enjoyed the best of starts to his Valladolid career, with his best performance this season coming in a 6-1 win against Rayo Vallecano way back in September.

    Since then he has performed adequately if not setting the world alight.

    Rukavina likes to get forward when possible, and he did so to reasonable effect in the match against Real Madrid, where he was tasked with marking Cristiano Ronaldo

    The defender initially acquitted himself well, keeping the attacking foray of the Portuguese to a minimum, whilst getting in a cross or two himself. However, he soon tired.

    Against another speedster such as Cristian Tello, he is likely to be punished later in the game. Tello is still very much a work in progress but is a young man with a point to prove.

    Rumours of Neymar signing for La Blaugrana will not subside, and with Gerard Deulofeu having recently extended his Barca contract, according to Football-Espana.net, Tello will be only too aware that the competition for places will really begin to hot up now.

    It is therefore in the player's interest to have a solid few games to give Tito Vilanova some food for thought over the summer break.

Oscar Gonzalez vs. Gerard Pique

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    Although not a striker by trade, Oscar Gonzalez has weighed in with 12 of the 46 La Liga goals that Valladolid have scored this season, according to Squawka.

    Currently top scorer, the creative midfielder is the next best performing player this season behind Patrick Ebert and is at the hub of the action in much the same way as we see Andres Iniesta perform at Barcelona.

    Whilst Ebert will go about his work diligently and directly, expect to find Oscar intelligently working the spaces between midfield and attack, supplementing the thrust of Javi Guerra and/or Manucho.

    As Oscar attempts to prise the Barca back line out of position, the more cultured and attack-minded of the centre-backs, Gerard Pique, needs to ensure that he patrols his defensive sentry sensibly.

    The urge to stand toe-to-toe with Oscar may prove hard to resist, but the visiting No. 10 is more than capable of picking the Catalan's pocket.

    Over 1,000 successful passes across the season, including a number of key through balls, are testament to the Spaniard's prowess in the attacking areas.

    Pique has had a poor season by his own standards, and he will do well to finish the upcoming three games in a positive manner given his expected participation in the forthcoming Confederations Cup for the Spanish national team.

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