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Preview: Battle at the Top, Barcelona vs. Valencia

Barcelona lead La Liga with 34 points, four ahead of Valencia. Los Che are also unbeaten in the league this season, with three draws to Barca's one. With the Madrid teams both winning on Saturday and back within seven of the top, the stakes at the Mestalla Stadium just got a little higher.

Those who support Valencia have been wondering why they aren't being taken as seriously in the media to contend for the crown. Their 12th place finish and three different managers including Voro Gonzalez in an interim position created plenty of doubters, but the combination of a lack of European football and a deeper squad than last season have made for a recipe for success this campaign.

Last weekend saw the Valencianistes take care of business against Espanyol without their three best attacking options starting in Simone Zaza, Goncalo Guedes and Carlos Soler. Zaza has knocked in nine goals in eleven appearances, with Rodrigo's seven goals and four assists not too far behind. Guedes, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, has added three goals and five assists alongside the youthful Santi Mina's five goals and one assist.

Yet, for the all of Valencia's attacking prowess this season, it is 20-year-old Soler that seems to be taking the league by storm. His build-up play from either central midfield or the right wing has terrorized defenses this season, and adding Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira has created a creative one-two punch that teams are struggling to contain.

With Dani Parejo and Geoffrey Kondogbia in the midfield, Los Che have been able to protect their backline with sturdy work rate in the middle. This should be the most important area of the field and both Marcelino, who is banned from the bench area for the contest, and Ernesto Valverde will understand the importance of controlling the pace of the game when they select their starters.

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are automatic starters and will feature for Barcelona. Coming off signing his new contract, expect Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to start up top. With Gerard Pique suspended and Sergi Roberto still out injured, the backline will most assuredly consist of Jordi Alba, Thomas Vermaelen, Samuel Umtiti and Nelson Semedo with the in-form Marc-Andre ter Stegen in net behind them.

As for the other two starters for Barcelona, Francesc and Dan discussed the players that have been trending upwards recently and may deserve a start in the most recent edition of 'The Barcelona Podcast':



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