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Xavi, Gattuso meet again as Valencia host Barca

Xavi Hernandez and Gennaro Gattuso were World Cup winning midfielders with differing styles in their playing days, but the coaches of Barcelona and Valencia meet in La Liga this weekend in similarly uncomfortable situations.

October has not treated them kindly after strong starts to the season, turning Saturday’s clash at Mestalla into a thorny prospect for both parties.

Second-placed Barcelona lost in the Clasico to fall three points behind league leaders Real Madrid and suffered Champions League elimination on Wednesday.

Sustaining further damage to their title bid before the World Cup break would be a big blow, and provoke more questions about their summer spending spree and financial decisions to allow for it. 

Valencia, meanwhile, have won only once in their last five games, losing 2-1 at home against Real Mallorca last weekend, and although they are ninth, are at risk of slipping down the table.

Both sides are shaped in the image of their coaches, with Xavi insisting on a passing game, while Valencia are living up to Gattuso’s intensity on the pitch. 

That has translated into nine red cards in the 11 matches they have been involved in this season in the league, although only three of those have been awarded to Valencia players.

Xavi and Gattuso clashed three times as players while at Barcelona and AC Milan, with a win and a draw each, while the former beat the latter with Spain at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, earning a 1-0 triumph over Italy in the quarter-finals.

Barcelona’s coach scored in the gold medal match against Cameroon which finished 2-2, and again from the penalty spot, but his team were ultimately defeated.

For most of Xavi’s glittering career he managed to avoid that bitter taste, but life as a coach is proving harder.

The Spaniard won the 2010 World Cup with his country, four years after Gattuso triumphed with Italy.

Valencia are relishing the Catalans’ visit, with 44-year-old Gattuso’s bold attitude rubbing off on his players.

“We have no fear of Barcelona, we have a very good team too and we will go out there to win,” said Valencia winger Samu Castillejo.

“We have a very important game in front of our fans. We’ll play with the mentality of leaving behind those games in which we’ve deserved more than what we got.

“In La Liga they are scoring a lot, playing well, but we have no fear. It’s 11 against 11.”

As well as a clash between two legends of the game on the benches, the match also sees La Liga’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski facing the in-form Edinson Cavani.

They are two of the strikers which have scored the most goals over the past decade, and they are both in impressive domestic form.

Poland’s Lewandowski has 12 goals in 11 matches in La Liga, while his Uruguayan counterpart has netted four goals in his last three games and is back to his deadly best.

Player to watch: Mikel Merino

One of the weekend’s most attractive fixtures sees Real Sociedad welcome Real Betis on Sunday, and Mikel Merino could prove to be a key figure. The Spanish midfielder has been instrumental to his team’s good form and, after they suffered their first defeat in nine matches across all competitions last weekend against Real Valladolid, he will look to drag them back to winning ways. 

Key stats

2 – Barcelona have been eliminated in the Champions League group stage in two consecutive seasons and now their top target is to win La Liga.

4 – Four of Getafe’s 10 goals this season have been scored by defenders, at 40 percent the highest percentage of any team in the division.

791 – No player likes the ball more than Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, who has taken more touches than anyone else.

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