Valencia ready for Barça, Madrid face Malaga
La Liga pacesetters Valencia will look to prolong Barcelona's stuttering home form and prove themselves to be genuine title contenders this weekend when they travel north to the Nou Camp.
Valencia, who finished third last season but a massive 28 points behind title winners Barça, have had a superb start to the current campaign with five wins and a draw from their opening six games.
That has left Los Che a point clear of second-placed Villarreal at the top of the standings, although critics will argue that Unai Emery's men have enjoyed a favourable fixture list having not yet faced any side that finished in the top seven last term.
That will no longer be the case after this weekend as Valencia take on two-time reigning champions Barça, who are currently three points behind in fourth place. Valencia have conceded seven goals without reply in losing their previous two league visits to the Nou Camp, but they will have been encouraged by Barça's poor home form so far this season.
The Catalan giants, who earned 55 out of a possible 57 points in front of their own fans last term, suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat to promoted Hercules in their second home match and were then held 1-1 by Real Mallorca last time out.
New Valencia striker Roberto Soldado is hoping his side can add to Barça coach Pep Guardiola's headaches this weekend, saying: "It's the moment to hurt Barcelona. They are suffering at home, we are playing well away and we have to take advantage of these circumstances."
More good news for Los Che is that Barça could still be without playmaker Xavi due to an Achilles tendon problem, although Guardiola looks set to have former Valencia hero David Villa available.
Villa, who moved from the Mestalla to Barça in a €40m deal this summer, looked a doubt after picking up a knee injury whilst on Spain duty this week but Barça's medical team believe he should be fit to play. Even if Spain's joint-record goalscorer does not make the match, Soldado believes Barça have the strength in depth to cover his and Xavi's absence.
"David Villa and Xavi Hernandez are two key players for Barcelona but their replacements will be high-quality players," said the former Getafe hitman.
That match takes place on Saturday night, along with the local derby between Atletico Madrid and Getafe at the Vicente Calderon and Real Madrid's trip to 10th-placed Malaga.
Madrid are unbeaten under new coach Jose Mourinho and have won six of their eight competitive matches, but a lack of goals had seen the big-spending Spanish giants come in for criticism.
Madrid went some way to answering that in their last match though, thrashing Deportivo La Coruna 6-1 prior to the international break, and they will be hoping for a similar display against Malaga ahead of next week's eagerly-awaited UEFA Champions League visit of AC Milan to the Bernabeu.
Malaga have lost all three of their home games this season while Madrid are unbeaten away since January, but midfielder Esteban Granero is wary of the threat the Andalusian side poses - especially up front.
"Malaga have rebuilt and have many talented players. Their two wingers and forwards are their biggest threats because they are fast and can do a lot of damage on the counter-attack," he said.
On Sunday, bottom club Depor host Osasuna still searching for their first win of the season, while second-bottom Real Zaragoza have the same target when they go to Athletic Bilbao.
Racing Santander, the other team in the relegation zone, are at home to Almeria, Levante face fellow promoted outfit Real Sociedad, Espanyol go to Mallorca and Sporting Gijon take on fifth-placed Sevilla. In Monday evening's game, in-form Villarreal go in search of their sixth successive league win when they travel to Hercules.