Socceroo ‘keeper Mat Ryan is set for a daunting weekend in La Liga with his Valencia side set to take on Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.
In what will be a huge thrill – and great challenge – for the Aussie gloveman, Barca come to the Mestalla on Sunday morning (AEDT) with Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar in devastating form.
Ryan has only just regained his spot in Valencia’s starting side after a lengthy injury lay-off and he’ll look to make up for lost time, especially with new boss Gary Neville in the stands.
Neville has been appointed the new Valencia boss and will be at the game, although he doesn’t officially take charge until Sunday.
Socceroo ‘keeper in Copa Del Rey win
So interim head coach Voro and Gary’s brother Phil Neville will hold the fort for the game against Luis Enrique’s side after guiding Los Che to a 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Barakaldo on Wednesday.
It will be a massive test for Valencia, who sit ninth after seeing previous coach Nuno Espirito Santo resign last week.
They face a Barca side sitting top of the pile, four points clear of Atletico Madrid and a further two ahead of rivals Real Madrid, who they defeated 4-0 last month as part of a run that has seen them win their last seven matches in all competitions.
Those games have seen last season’s treble winners score an astonishing 28 goals while conceding just two, form which does not bode well for a Valencia outfit who have only beaten their opponents once in their last 16 attempts in La Liga.
“We thought for this week it is best for me not to be on the bench against Barcelona,” Neville said.
“They [the players] needed to prepare for such an important game consistently with those who were already there. Out of respect for the players it is best for me to start against Lyon [in the UEFA Champions League on Dec 9].
“I had several meetings with players, coaches, doctors – but at this stage it is important not to give a message that can undermine their attention from the important match against Barcelona, so I will leave them to one side now.”
Barca star Suarez is the league’s second top goalscorer on 12 – behind only team-mate Neymar on 14 – and he is keen for his in-form side not to rest on their laurels despite having breathing space at the top of the table.
“There is enough quality in this squad to win new titles,” Suarez said this week.
“It would be very nice to repeat the treble, but we now have some very important games and then the Club World Cup, which we all want to win.
“It is great to get a six-point gap to Madrid, but Atletico are within four and they are very strong opponents.
“It is still too early to say who the candidates are to win the league. Last year we also had a bad time and then we went on to win the treble.”
Defender Jeremy Mathieu (thigh) is likely to be missing for the visitors after injuring his thigh in the Copa win over Villanovense.