What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Real Valladolid vs Barcelona
When: Saturday 22nd December, 2012, at 17:00 UK time
Where: Estadio Jose Zorilla, Valladolid, Spain

Dare to Dream

Knowing the huge gap separates the two sides, both in terms of points and ability, Real Valladolid prepare to welcome Barcelona to the Estadio Jose Zorilla, aware that they will be facing their toughest challenge of the 2012/13 season when they step onto the same pitch as the Catalan giants.

Statistics do not favour the home side, as they have lost their last five league encounters with Barcelona. Furthermore, they have won just three out of their eight home games so far this season, making their task extra hard against the four-time Champions League winners. However, club manager Miroslav Dukic views this game as his side’s “measuring stick” in respect to their progress this campaign.

“The game will be difficult because we play against the best team in the world, and it will serve to assess the true measure of our team”, declared the ex-Serbia national team coach.

Given that Barcelona have been rocked with the news that Tito Vilanova has suffered a setback in his personal fight against cancer, Real Valladolid may benefit from the mental state of their opponents and their mistakes on the night.

Tough Setback

It was just as if something bad was going to hit Barcelona, one way or another. With the team off to a wonderful start to the 2012/13 campaign, the title looks set to return to Catalonia after just sixteen fixtures. Nine points ahead of Atletico Madrid and thirteen in front of Real Madrid, the title is Barcelona’s to lose. However, just as the club seemed to have entered a bright period, bad news rocked the Camp Nou as coach Tito Vilanova suffered a relapse in the cancer that affected his parotid gland last term and for which he was operated on almost a year ago.

Barcelona seemed to be up in heaven as the influential trio of Carles Puyol, Xavi and Lionel Messi all announced contract extensions this past Wednesday, only to be stunned by the news that their head coach will be going under the knife again. Now, assistant manager Jordi Roura will lead the team in Vilanova’s absence and it will be interesting to see how the side will act following these unexpected events.

Boasting a perfect away record with eight wins on the road, the Blaugrana will want to extend this streak before the festive season kicks in.

Recent form

Real Valladolid:
Sevilla 1-2 Real Valladolid (03/12; La Liga)
Real Valladolid 2-3 Real Madrid (08/12; La Liga)
Deportivo La Coruna 0-0 Real Valladolid (17/12; La Liga)

Real Betis 1-2 Barcelona (09/12; La Liga)
Cordoba 0-2 Barcelona (12/12; Copa del Rey)
Barcelona 4-1 Atletico Madrid (16/12; La Liga)

Key absences

Real Valladolid: Patrick Ebert; Jesus Rueda

Barcelona: Cesc Fabregas; Isaac Cuenca; Marc Muniesa

Players to watch

Real Valladolid – Manucho: The former Manchester United man has six goals to his name so far in La Liga, and will be his team’s main attacking threat on the night. However, he will need to be at his very best in order to have a chance against Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.

Barcelona – Carles Puyol: Puyol has a big job to do as he attempts to gee up his team ahead of this one following the Vilanova news. Having returned from injury himself, he will need to attain peak fitness fast and return to being influential for his side.

Match Prediction

The game against Real Valladolid will show just how the Barcelona team have been affected on the pitch by the recent news surrounding their coach. Vilanova has quickly won hearts over since his appointment as Josep Guardiola’s successor and losing him comes as a hard blow for the Blaugrana. However, they are still expected to win this one. Real Valladolid 1-3 Barcelona.

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