BARCELONA // Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Valencia's Unai Emery, the Primera Liga's two youngest managers, come face-to-face at Camp Nou. Both are 37, and while much is known of the Catalan Guardiola, the Basque coach Emery was a surprise choice when he joined Valencia in the summer. Following a modest lower division playing career, Emery's rise started in 2004-05 while playing with third division Lorca. He became team manager midway through the season and secured promotion. A year later, he almost led the tiny Murcian club to the top flight.
Second division neighbours Almeria snapped him up in 2006 and he immediately achieved promotion on a limited budget, followed by a hugely creditable eighth-placed Primera Liga finish last season. In becoming Valencia's fourth manager in as many years, Emery joined a club lurching from one political crisis to another. Showing the stability of a building made from jellied eels, Valencia's warring directors continually aired their problems publicly and one player, Spanish international David Albelda, took the club to court.
Even when Valencia had an outstanding coach like Rafa Benitez, who won the league and Uefa Cup double in 2004, they treated him shoddily. The managers who followed naturally wanted to bring their own players, which created more instability. Last season, promising names like Nikola Zigic, Hedwiges Maduro and Ever Banega were purchased for almost ?45 million (Dh210m) - and they barely featured. Valencia's problems have not gone away. This week, Marca reported that they "are on the brink of bankruptcy" At the heart of the problem is a crisis in the Spanish construction industry. Valencia are building a new 75,000 capacity stadium which they had hoped to fund from the sale of their towering 55,000 capacity Mestalla home, which occupies a privileged position close to the city centre. Two years ago, Valencia were right to be optimistic about a substantial sale. Now, with construction projects being mothballed all over Iberia, there are no buyers. Valencia this week tried to get another ?100m (Dh210m) from a local bank Bancaja, which was refused.
So credit to Emery for building a side who have lost just two of their 13 league games and sit in third place, five points behind Barca. Valencia have the league's second best goal difference thanks to their customary tight defence and the counter-attacking skills of David Villa Juan Mata. More importantly, they are unbeaten on their travels, where they have conceded just three goals. "Valencia are an awkward team who have conceded very few goals away from home," stated Barca midfielder Xavi. "They feel comfortable as an away team and are comfortable on the counter-attack. It will be difficult to beat them."