Real Madrid will aim to end 2013 with a victory on Sunday away at a Valencia side that has just parted company with coach Miroslav Djukic. A 3-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid proved to be the result that sealed the fate of Djukic, who was only appointed in the summer.
While the Serbian has carried the can, Valencia’s problems run much deeper and have existed for much longer than his short reign. A huge debt has meant that the club’s best players have been sold off year after year, with Roberto Soldado this summer following in the footsteps of Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, David Silva and David Villa.
It has become increasingly unrealistic to think that Valencia could maintain their position as best of the rest in Spain, never mind actually challenging powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid. Valencia currently sit in 10th place in La Liga, a full 10 points away from a Champions League place. San Lorenzo coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is reportedly set to arrive from Argentina to take the reins, but Valencia will be led in the meantime by Nico Estevez, who oversaw a 1-0 victory over Gimnastic in midweek to progress in the Copa del Rey.
He faces a tough task to repeat that success on Sunday. Real Madrid can ill afford to drop further points in their last match before the festive break, with a 2-2 draw against Osasuna last weekend leaving them 5 points off Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga.
While Madrid can take some credit from that result in coming back from 2-0 down and being down to 10 men after Sergio Ramos’s dismissal, manager Carlo Ancelotti will be disappointed that it was followed up by only a narrow 2-0 victory over third-tier side Olimpic in the Copa del Rey. Ramos will return to the side after serving his suspension, while Valencia will also have to deal with the threat of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo after both were left out on Wednesday.
Gareth Bale will miss out, however, with the Welsh winger is still struggling with a calf injury. That means that Angel di Maria is likely to keep his place after scoring from the spot and setting up the other goal in the victory over Olimpic. Speculation continues to swirl over the Argentinean’s future, with suggestions that he is eager to leave the club. Pepe will definitely be missing for Madrid through suspension as they look to extend their winning streak at the Mestalla to five matches.
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division contest will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport En Espanol, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.