David Villa: Valencia have edge over Barca
Ex-Los Che and Blaugrana striker believes sizzling form of Peter Lim's club is no fluke
Former Valencia and Barcelona striker David Villa believes an upset is in store when two of his former clubs meet in a top-of-the-table clash on Monday morning (Singapore time).
In a season where traditional powerhouses Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have struggled to make an impact, it was Valencia who have provided the surprise challenge to Barcelona's La Liga title ambitions.
Los Che, four points behind league leaders Barca, will head into the clash after a club-record eight straight La Liga wins.
Villa, 35, now winding down his career at Major League Soccer side New York City FC, believes Valencia have the edge over the Catalan giants, who themselves set a club record of conceding just four goals from their opening 12 La Liga games.
He told Valencia CF radio: "I believe Valencia have a small advantage for the match.
"Being at home, in the Mestalla, is a massive factor anytime the club play and this gives them a slight edge.
"At the moment, these two teams are the best in Spain and that's not only based on their league positions, but also what they have shown so far.
"This will be a great game between two sides at a very high level who should both be fearful of each other."
After two seasons in the doldrums riddled by coaching changes and questions over Singaporean owner Peter Lim's running of the club, Valencia have been revitalised by a combination of new boss Marcelino Garcia Toral and sporting director Mateu Alemany as the club gun for their first La Liga title since 2003/04.
In contrast to recent years where Lim's recruitment has been questioned for his closeness to Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, the majority of Valencia's seven new signings after another summer clear-out have shone. Three of their top performers - Goncalo Guedes, Geoffrey Kondogbia, and Andreas Pereira - arrived on season-long loan deals.
"The truth is the team has changed completely," said Valencia's top scorer Simone Zaza.
"Not just on a playing level but also our mentality. That is what the coach has helped us a lot with."
Zaza's own turnaround in fortunes mirrors that of his club's.
The 26-year-old striker was ridiculed on social media for his miss against Germany in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, when he was brought on specifically to take a penalty. He took a long, staggered run-up only to balloon the ball over the bar as Italy were eliminated.
Zaza later said that the penalty miss "traumatised" him and caused severe weight loss.
The anxiety spilled over into his brief and unhappy loan spell at West Ham, where he failed to score in 11 games, which he said resulted in him "going crazy".
He joined Valencia at the start of the year, and after a slow start, is now firing on cylinders.
Second in the La Liga scorers' chart, the Italian has hit nine goals in 10 starts and scored in six consecutive weeks.
Against Barca, Valencia will not have coach Marcelino in the dug-out, as a consequence of his dismissal in last weekend's 2-0 win at Espanyol.
The importance of the Mestalla meeting for Barca was underlined as coach Ernesto Valverde left superstar Lionel Messi on the bench for the first hour during the midweek Champions League 0-0 draw with Juventus.
Messi will return, but Barca will be without the suspended Gerard Pique, meaning Thomas Vermaelen is likely to be forced into a first league start of the season with Javier Mascherano also sidelined by a hamstring injury. - WIRE SERVICES