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Barcelona derby could be tighter than odds suggest.

Byline: Dan Childs

VALENCIA have emerged as a credible third force at the top of La Liga and they have been well supported during the build-up to tonight's televised clash at home to Real Madrid.

Los Che are lying in third place, only three points behind Real and eight adrift of leaders Barca, who have played a game more than their title rivals.

They were held to a 0-0 draw by Barcelona in mid-October, but there is a widespread belief that they can go one better against Real, who are weakened by the absences of Cristiano Ronaldo (suspended) and Kaka (groin).

Valencia have been trimmed from a best-priced 8-5 to 31-20 to take the three points but their chances are limited by the loss of key winger David Silva, who is ruled out through injury.

Barcelona are red-hot 1-5 favourites to record a home win over city neighbours Espanyol but the game could be much tighter than those odds suggest.

Recent derby matches between the pair have been unpredictable affairs, with Barca managing only one victory from the last six league meetings.

It may be asking too much for 16-1 outsiders Espanyol to stage a repeat of their shock 2-1 triumph at Camp Nou in February.

But they might fancy their chances of securing a share of the spoils against a Barca side which expended plenty of energy during Wednesday's 3-1 triumph away to Dynamo Kiev.

Espanyol's pride will have been hurt by last Sunday's shock 4-0 loss at home to Racing, which was greeted by jeers and white hankerchiefs at the final whistle.

But there is no better place to restore battered egos than at the home of their fierce rivals.

There is no getting away from the fact that Espanyol were truly dreadful in their loss to lowly Racing.

But they have already secured goalless draws at Villarreal and Seville - two of last season's top five teams - and they are capable of a decent showing tonight.

Stan James are offering odds of 1.8 about the visitors in receipt of a two-goal Asian handicap start and that looks worth taking.

Cologne have been steadily improving since their dreadful start to the season and they look value 5-2 shots to bag three points from today's trip to Freiberg.

Both teams are in relegation danger with Cologne two points clear of the drop zone and Freiberg only three points better off.

However, Cologne's recent form suggests that they should improve in the second half of the season.

Zvonimir Soldo's charges have lost only two of their last nine matches and they held free-scoring Werder Bremen to a 0-0 draw last Sunday.

Their defence looks far more solid than that of newly-promoted Freiberg, who have conceded 32 league goals - the joint-highest in the section.

Recommendations Espanyol +2 on Asian h'cap 1pt 1.8 Stan James Cologne 1pt 5-2 Bet365, Ladbrokes

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Former Celtic man Shunsuke Nakamura is now at Espanyol
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 12, 2009
Words:490
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