What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Valencia vs Athletic Bilbao
When: Saturday 20th October, 2012, at 19:00 UK Time
Where: Mestalla, Valencia, Spain

Tough Start

For a team that are nominated to be Spain’s “best of the rest”, Valencia have not had the best of starts to the 2012/13 season. With just eight points after seven games, Los Che are in a tough situation. And now, meeting rivals for a top four finish in Athletic Bilbao, the team must find the required force to pull out of this crisis.

Club captain Roberto Soldado feels that the players are responsible for the current slump that the team are enduring, commenting: “It is a start to the season that none of us expected. Things are not going as we want and the first to know that are players. The only ones to blame are the players, who are practically the same as last season. We know that the way out of this is to be united. This has only just begun, but we cannot keep losing points because our goals will slowly slip away.”

And for the striker, redemption will need to start at the Mestalla against the Basques: “What Valencia have to do is show results on the pitch as soon as possible. The match against Athletic at the Mestalla is a final. Winning is important for us.”

Many Problems

Athletic Bilbao can draw many similarities between them and Valencia. Level on points with Los Che, Marcelo Bielsa needs to turn his team’s luck around in order to avoid further a deepening crisis at the club. Winless away from the San Mames so far this term, collecting three points at the Mestalla would have much value for Los Leones. However, beating Valencia will be anything but easy.

In addition to their on the pitch issues, Athletic Bilbao have been rocked by the recent news of unrest between Bielsa and star man Fernando Llorente, with the coach confining his towering forward to the bench against Osasuna in the team’s last league game. However, the Argentine coach may be tempted to slot Llorente back into the starting line-up here as Valencia will surely prove to be a harder test than Osasuna.

With fourteen goals conceded so far in the league, Athletic Bilbao boast the joint-worst defensive record of all twenty teams. Furthermore, the Basques have only managed three goals away from home so far – all during the 3-3 draw with Espanyol in September. A complete turnaround is thus needed for the side to live up to the expectations that were established last season, when they reached the finals of the Copa del Rey and Europa League.

Recent form

Valencia 2-0 Real Zaragoza (29/09; La Liga)
Valencia 2-0 Lille (02/10; Champions League)
Levante 1-0 Valencia (07/10; La Liga)

Athletic Bilbao:
Real Sociedad 2-0 Athletic Bilbao (29/09; La Liga)
Sparta Prague 3-1 Athletic Bilbao (04/10; Europa League)
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Osasuna (07/10; La Liga)

Key absences

Valencia: Sofiane Feghouli; Sergio Canales

Athletic Bilbao: Xabier Castillo (doubt); Carlos Gurpegui

Players to watch

Valencia – Tino Costa: The midfielder can be a great asset for Valencia should he be having a good day. Against Athletic Bilbao, Costa will need to be the pass-master that his team require in order to control the game’s tempo and force the visitors back into their own half.

Athletic Bilbao – Iker Muniain: The little man was on target as Spain beat Denmark 3-1 in the 2013 UEFA Under-21 qualifiers on Tuesday night. Against Valencia, Muniain will hope that his pace and trickery can cause the hosts all kinds of problems.

Match Prediction

Both teams have had starts to the season to forget, but should be able to rise up the standings once they hit a spell of good form. Valencia have the advantage here, by virtue of being at home and, in what looks a very tight match, that could be enough. Valencia 1-0 Athletic Bilbao.

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