Valencia are, quite possibly, the most unlucky of all of the world's massive clubs. If you're a follower of Spanish football I won't bore you with a re-hash of a story you've heard a million times, but if you didn't know, they were seriously crippled by the real estate collapse and general economic recession of 2008. They now have a concrete shell of a new stadium and a lot of debt. David Villa, David Silva and others have had to depart because the club can no longer guarantee them massive wages and Champions League football. Los Che have gotten off to a perfect start in La Liga despite all of these problems, and put their squad to the test against Barcelona at the old Mestalla on Wednesday night.
Though they may have sold off their big name, big money players, Valencia have done well to replace them with loan moves and frugal spending. Despite their budgetary constraints, Valencia have built a relatively young side with great strength in depth that is most likely the third most talented in La Liga. They are a distant third and do not appear to be any threat to the monopoly of the big two, but they can prove otherwise against Barca.
After two consecutive 2-2 draws across both La Liga and the Champions League, Barcelona fans were in near panic mode. Their defense looked lost without Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, while the loss of Alexis Sanchez to a serious injury looked like a crippling one. The Blaugranas went a long way towards squashing those concerns with a 8-0 thrashing of Osasuna on the weekend, but fans' concerns won't be completely calmed unless their team defeats Valencia.
Of course, win at the Mestalla and public opinion will do a complete 180 degree turn. After the Milan result, they were losing their dominance and badly in need of spending along the back line. Win at the Mestalla and Pep will have a virtual free pass until El Clasico in December. Managing Barcelona is a cruel job filled with all kinds of hyperbole, positive and negative.
Tactically, this could be a fantastic battle. Both Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery have a basic philosophy that they stick to, but they're willing to make subtle changes and/or play players "out of position" in order to achieve a goal. Cesc Fabregas has proven that he can play a role either up front or in the midfield for Barcelona, while Emery can do all kinds of different things with the likes of Ever Banega, Jonas and Sergio Canales.
Valencia would be shock winners on Wednesday, even though they are a quality team playing at home. But if they get a draw or look fantastic in a close defeat? Well, that's a positive. We might have just found our heavy favorites for third place, and that's nothing to scoff at.
Valencia vs. Barcelona kicks off at 4:00 pm ET, 9:00 pm BST and 10:00 pm local. It can be seen on GolTV in both the USA and Canada, as well as on Sky Sports 3 in the UK. We'll have live coverage of this game and the rest of Spain's mid-week action in our La Liga Week 4 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, head over to SB Nation Soccer.