LaLiga Santander is back with a bang after the international break, with a very tasty clash set to round off the weekend at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona host Valencia on Sunday (17 October) in what has become one of LaLiga’s most high-profile rivalries over the past two decades – in particular since the late 1990s, when Valencia lived a golden era of LaLiga and European titles and every match against Barcelona seemed to throw up goal fest after goal fest.
These high-scoring encounters have returned in recent years, as have a score of incredibly memorable matches. The 2019 Copa del Rey final saw Valencia beat Lionel Messi’s Barcelona 2-1 in Seville against all the odds, while their last four meetings in LaLiga Santander have seen an average of 4.5 goals per game (5-2, 2-0, 2-2, 3-2).
No less is expected of this Sunday’s encounter; in fact, even more is anticipated. Valencia are a different side from that which has struggled over the past couple of seasons – since that 2019 Copa del Rey final, to be exact.
This season, with new coach Jose Bordalas at the helm, Los Che have quickly proven themselves to be a solid, reliable, effective, and exciting side. They’ve recovered the essence of what made Valencia sides so thrilling over the years, and head to Camp Nou one spot ahead of Barcelona in the standings.
In fact, they even rose as high as joint leaders six matches into the season, before dropping points in two tough, consecutive games against Real Madrid and Sevilla.
Jose Gaya and Carlos Soler, two of Valencia’s most important players, are back for this weekend’s match, though they’ll be without Paraguayan centre-back Omar Alderete through suspension, whose place will most likely be taken by Mouctar Diakhaby.
Regardless, Bordalas should be delighted with the performances of his team so far this season, and especially so with those of Jasper Cillessen – who returns to the Camp Nou two years after his move to Mestalla – Hugo Guillamon, playing further forward in midfield, the exciting young American winger Yunus Musah, and Gonçalo Guedes, who looks to be back to his thrilling best.
Up the coast in Barcelona, coach Ronald Koeman is set to face his former side with renewed spirits. His side were outclassed last time out at Atletico Madrid (2-0), but with a number of players now recovered from injury this Barcelona side looks to be a different proposition.
Ansu Fati is likely ready to start and has already shown himself to be match sharp with a tremendous solo goal against Levante after almost a full calendar year out with injury. Sergio Aguero, meanwhile, could be in line to make his debut for the club, while Ousmane Dembele is also reaching the end of his return from injury.
Koeman lost Uruguayan centre-back Ronald Araujo to injury during the international break, but both Memphis Depay and teenage sensation Gavi return with their spirits in the sky after strong showings with the Netherlands and Spain, respectively.
Just a glance at the players to watch in Barcelona vs Valencia this weekend demonstrates why this is one of the most important matches in world football when it comes to young talent.
Both sides boast one of the most prolific and impressive youth academies in European football, and the list of young rising stars set to be on show at Camp Nou is astounding: Ansu Fati, Gavi, de Jong, Dest, Yusuf Demir, Riqui Puig, Nico Gonzalez, Carlos Soler, Guillamón, Yunus Musah, Racic, Guedes and Hugo Duro.
Factor in those likely to miss the match – Pedri, perhaps the brightest young star in world football right now, Dembele, Eric Garcia, Araujo – and it’s clear that these two sides are absolutely "can’t miss" for football lovers around the globe looking to catch an eye on the stars of the future.
What’s more, this weekend will see Camp Nou open its doors to a 100-per-cent capacity crowd for the first time since March 2020, thanks to the recent decision by the regional Catalan authorities to remove all restrictions on outdoor arenas.
It’s an ideal starting point ahead of next weekend’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the biggest stadium in Europe. But all eyes will be on this weekend first, though; Barcelona vs Valencia has all the ingredients to be one of the best matches of the season so far. You won’t want to miss it.
Watch Barcelona vs Valencia this Sunday on your local broadcasters.