Atletico Madrid v Sevilla
The big news on Atletico's part is the return of Fernando Torres, which is likely to see Mista dropped to the bench to allow Sergio Aguero to partner Torres in attack. The young Argentine has more than earned a starting place with his virtuso display against Athletic Bilbao and if he continues along the same vein then Sevilla may find their unbeaten run so far threatened.
Sevilla have a couple of injury worries with striking pair Ernesto Chevanton and Luis Fabiano likely to miss out. They still have on-form Frederic Kanoute, though. It's hard to see this team getting beaten with the way they've been playing recently, to be honest, but their backline while solid isn't unbreachable. Should be a cracker of a game, too bad no one will be able to watch it. A high-scoring draw looks likely, if Atletico don't self-destruct.
Villarreal v Real Zaragoza
The Yellow Submarines have to start winning games sometime around now. Unfortunately, Zaragoza aren't the easiest opposition, but if Villarreal want to return to Europe they're the kind of team the Submarines have to beat. This match can now be called the Battle of Argentina, with both sides likely to field at least 3 Argentine players. Villarreal have significant injury problems with most of their defence out as well as Frenchman Robert Pires. Their problems are compounded by the fact that their match-winners Riquelme and Forlan both seem to have hit a spell of bad form.
Zaragoza on the other hand are a club on the up with the Argentinean axis of Aimar and D'Alessandro driving the attack and Gabriel Milito marshalling the defence. Unfortunately his brother, the excellent striker Diego Milito is out with an injury, but otherwise the club go into this match with a fairly complete squad and high expectations. My heart says a desperately needed win for Villarreal, but my head thinks that Zaragoza will probably edge it.
Barcelona v Valencia
The biggest match of the week sees two potential champions battle it out for the right to retain a 100% record. Valencia have quite a few injury concerns with Marchena, Baraja, del Horno and Tavano all out, although only Baraja out of those would affect the starting line-up. Raul Albiol and David Villa are both doubtful, though Villa looks more likely to start now after earlier signs that he could miss the game, which if true would have certainly made Barca 'keeper Valdes relieved because of his tendency to feed Villa goals under pressure. If Villa is not fit then David Silva will partner Fernando Morientes up front instead, with Navarro replacing Albiol in center defence with Roberto Ayala. Captain Albelda has recovered from his cheekbone injury sustained while on international duty and will start in central midfield, with Vicente and Angulo patrolling the wings.
Barcelona have only one injury worry in the form of Santi Ezquerro, who has been left out of the 18-man squad with Saviola slotting into his place on the bench. Rijkaard will field his strongest team, albeit with one eye on the Champions League game in mid-week by resting players such as Motta, Sylvinho and most significantly Thuram, who will most certainly start the Bremen game. The more defensively sound duo of Zambrotta and Gio will be used at fullback, with Puyol partnering Marquez in central defence and Edmilson in the holding midfield role. The golden midfield combination of Deco and Xavi should start again, although I have a hunch one of them could be replaced by Iniesta at around after the hour mark to rest them. No one knows whether it will be Giuly or Messi starting on the right wing. Giuly seems to be in better form but after Rijkaard's remarks announcing that he will be keeping faith with Messi despite his quiet game against Racing I'm not too sure what's going to happen. Rijkaard may want to start Giuly in the Champions League game instead. If Messi does play it will be his first game against Valencia since the 04-05 season, having missed out both times last year through injury and ineligibility respectively. To round things off Ronaldinho and Eto'o will lead the attack, with Gudjohnsen possibly coming off the bench later on for the latter.
My guess as to the starting eleven (4-3-3): Valdes; Zambrotta, Puyol, Marquez, Gio; Deco, Edmilson, Xavi; Messi, Ronaldinho, Eto’o
I remain somewhat unconvinced by the new and improved Barca backline's ability to hold off the likes of the fabulous David Villa and the formidable Morientes, not to mention Vicente and Angulo who have been in such good form. The addition of Zambrotta should help, as long as the central pair have their usual proficient game. The attacking players will do the rest, although it won't be easy against a very strong Valencia defence marshalled by the excellent Roberto Ayala, who can keep world-class forwards quiet for the whole game through tight marking and aerial dominance. They'll have to do better than they have so far, especially that poor initial display against Racing before they picked it up.
No predictions since this game involves my club, but this is the most nervous I've been about a game since the beginning of the season. Barca have done badly against Valencia in the Camp Nou for the past 3 seasons, and there's no denying the potential of the squad Quique Sanchez Flores has managed to assemble. Both clubs will take the game very, very seriously, which should make for a great contest.