The Champions League returns after the winter break, with the leader of Ligue 1 who hopes to make significant progress in a competition they are expected to do well in.
Ernesto Valverde takes charge of Valencia CF for the first time in the UEFA Champions League with the club looking to preserve an impressive record against French opposition. While Valencia’s stock has been on the rise ever since Valverde’s appointment in early December, round of 16 opponents Paris Saint-Germain FC come to Spain in buoyant mood despite the absence of two key men.
Ernesto Valverde, coach
It’s always a good time to play a match like this – we’re doing well right now.
We’re high on confidence and this match offers us opportunities that we must make the most of. They have great strikers and attack with full force. Having possession doesn’t mean constant danger; if we do that, it doesn’t mean we will have PSG under control.
We want to get through to the round of 16. We want to win and qualify for the next round; we are here for victory, that’s our intention. We have to learn from past mistakes, but there’s optimism and there will be a spectacular atmosphere. I would have liked an extra day’s rest but we have a good enough team to overcome this.
Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva are important absentees for PSG. Motta knows the Spanish league very well and Silva is world class. Zlatan Ibrahimović is a great player and we have to take him into account, not just Adil Rami but the whole defence. He does incredible things and he’s a good scorer; he comes down to defend if the team needs him. This isn’t just a job for Rami, but for the whole team.
Saturday: RC Celta de Vigo 0-1 Valencia (Valdez 90+3)
Guaita; Barragán, Rami, Ricardo Costa, Cissokho (Pereira 38); Albelda (Parejo 61), Tino Costa, Feghouli, Banega, Jonas (Valdez 89); Soldado.
• Rami hit a post and Roberto Soldado had a goal chalked off for offside before substitute Nelson Valdez’s added-time header secured a fourth successive Liga away win for Valencia, who finished the weekend fifth in the table.
Defender Antonio Barragán is suspended but Soldado returns from a ban. Sofiane Feghouli featured in his first match at the weekend since returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty. Full-back Aly Cissokho is out after failing a fitness test on a sprained right ankle while Jérémy Mathieu is sidelined with an Achilles problem.
Carlo Ancelotti, coach
I don’t think we’re the favourites because this round is totally open. Valencia are playing well again – they have well-organised and talented players. I think all the players have the same responsibility, despite having varying levels of experience in the Champions League. They all know what they have to do on the pitch.
It’s going to be an open game, a good show. I don’t think it’ll be a physical match but a tactical one. Both teams are compact. I think it’s true PSG are good on the counterattack but our objective is to play football, not just counterattack. This is a great test for us to play here.
The Champions League is special for everyone, there’s a lot of pressure but I think the team has proved its character and personality in this competition. We will show our personality on the pitch like we did against Porto [on matchday six] – I’m sure it’ll be a great football match.
Friday: PSG 3-1 SC Bastia (Ménez 56, Ibrahimović 71pen, Lavezzi 89; Khazri 83)
Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Maxwell, Alex, Armand; Chantôme, Verratti, Ménez; Pastore (Matuidi 72), Gameiro (Ibrahimović 66), Lucas (Lavezzi 88).
• Starting on the bench for the first time this season, Ibrahimović maintained his exceptional goalscoring run with PSG by scoring his 21st in as many league appearances in a win that extended his side’s lead at the top of Ligue 1 to six points.
Still regaining fitness, David Beckham did not make it into Ancelotti’s 22-man squad for the Valencia game though he will be in attendance to watch his new team-mates in action. The injured Silva and Motta (both thigh) are out of contention, while Mamadou Sakho is available following the birth of his daughter Aida on Monday.
• Two wins against LOSC Lille in Group F stretched Valencia’s run of unbeaten games against French sides to 17. They have not been defeated by a Ligue 1 club since their first match against one, the opening leg of the 1979/80 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final when FC Nantes won 2-1 in France.
Pereira, Rami, R Costa, Cissokho
Victor Ruiz, T Costa
Piatti, Banega, Guardado