Valencia v Barcelona talking points

LaLiga’s top two clash at the Mestalla on Sunday, with Valencia taking on Barcelona.

Los Che are rejuvenated this year and they go into the contest just four points behind table-topping Barca after eight successive victories.

However, the visitors have dropped just two points all season and go into the game on a high after Lionel Messi signed a new contract.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points surrounding the game.

Magic Messi

All eyes will be on Lionel Messi. The LaLiga top scorer’s decision to commit himself to the club until the summer of 2021 delighted all at the Nou Camp and means, in all likelihood, the 30-year-old will finish his career with the club. Messi played only 34 minutes of Wednesday’s Champions League match against Juventus and boss Ernesto Valverde has allayed any fitness concerns, so few would bet against the Argentinian adding to his 12-goal league tally at the Mestalla.

Zaza-bout that?

Messi may be the league’s top scorer – but Simone Zaza is second. Although Zaza drew a blank in the 3-0 defeat of Leganes, the previous time the 26-year-old failed to hit the target in LaLiga was September 16. Nine goals in his last seven matches continues the upturn in fortunes for the Italy international, who failed to impress in a loan spell at West Ham last season but finished it strongly for Los Che, prompting them to make the move from parent club Juventus permanent.

Valverde’s case for the defence

Valverde faces a dilemma over who he will pair in central defence. Gerard Pique is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season against Leganes last weekend, while Javier Mascherano also misses out with a hamstring problem sustained on international duty with Argentina earlier this month. There is plenty of speculation as to who will replace them on Sunday, with Thomas Vermaelen and Samuel Umtiti – and maybe both – in the frame.

Further absentees could give Valencia hope

It is not just in defence where the visitors are down on numbers. Midfielders Arda Turan, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes are all injured and although Ousmane Dembele may return earlier than expected from a hamstring issue which has limited his LaLiga involvement to just 51 minutes since his £96.8million arrival from Rennes in August, this match comes far too soon for the tricky forward. Barca have dropped only two points this season and the strength of their squad is obvious – but their absent friends should hearten Valencia.

A bore draw looks unlikely

These two teams have scored 65 goals between them in league play this season (Barcelona 33, Valencia 32) and last season’s two matches yielded 11 goals. Considering the attacking flair on show and the fact they have played out only one goalless draw in 44 games since 1995, only the brave would predict both teams drawing a blank on Sunday – even if Barca’s last two Champions League away contests have finished 0-0.

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