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Valencia ready for big early test

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MADRID, Spain -- Although it comes only three games into the season, Valencia believe that Sunday's clash against champions Barcelona at the Nou Camp will provide a reliable measure of the strength of their title credentials.

"It will tell us how far Valenca can go this season," said midfielder Miguel Angel Angulo. "It will be a good test of our present form and will help set our ambitions for the season."

Angulo added: "It will be a very evenly balanced and intense contest as there is a lot at stake for both sides. The match is likely to be decided by the smallest detail."

Together with leaders Sevilla, Valencia and Barca are the only teams yet to drop points and despite the fact that the season has only just started, victory for either side would provide an important psychological boost.

Valencia striker David Villa, who scored twice in last season's 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp and then grabbed the winner at the Mestalla, picked up a minor ankle injury in last weekend's 2-0 win over Getafe and may start on the bench with youngster David Silva accompanying Fernando Morientes up front.

Former Real Madrid striker Morientes looks to have recovered his nose for goal on his return to Spain, following a frustrating spell with Liverpool, and has scored five goals in his last six outings.

David Albelda is set to return to the centre of midfield while Angulo should start on the right wing, as new signing Joaquin is suffering from muscle problems after making his debut last week.

Spearheaded by last season's top scorer Samuel Eto'o, Barca have made their best start to the season in seven years.

The Cameroon striker has already grabbed four league goals, taking his tally since joining the Catalans to an impressive 68 in 99 official games and few would bet against him celebrating his centenary with yet another.

"He is one of the most influential players in the team," said Barca coach Frank Rijkaard. "He's a strong character and infects the rest of the team with his enthusiasm. His present form doesn't surprise me because he is a quality player."

The one team that have out-scored Barca in the league are leaders Sevilla who notched up their 10th goal in three games in their thrilling 3-2 win over arch-rivals Real Betis in last weekend's city derby.

Like Eto'o, centre-forward Frederic Kanoute has scored four goals this season, while former reserve striker Kepa has weighed in with three.

The UEFA Cup holders, who crushed Barcelona 3-0 at the start of the season to win the European Super Cup, will face a rejuvenated Atletico Madrid.

Inspired by 18-year-old Sergio Aguero -- the latest prodigy to roll off the Argentine production line -- Atletico inflicted a 4-1 defeat on Athletic Bilbao at San Mames last week, but they will have their work cut out at the Calderon.

Under fire for their dour performances at home, Real Madrid will be looking to produce a more entertaining display at Betis on Saturday.

Jose Antonio Reyes will be hoping that his goal-scoring performance in the 2-0 win at home to Real Sociedad will be enough to ensure him of a place in the starting line-up on his return to his native Andalucia.

Bodipo blow

Deportivo La Coruna striker Rodolfo Bodipo will be sidelined for six to eight months after tearing a cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Bodipo, who is in his first season with Deportivo, was injured during a friendly on Wednesday with minor-league side Laracha.

Deportivo paid Alaves an estimated $2.5 million for the Equatorial Guinea international in June. The 28-year-old was one of the club's 16 acquisitions during the offseason.

Deportivo lies fifth in the table, with seven points from three games.

Villa may start on the bench after injuring an ankle last weekend.



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