PREVIEW - Keeper Valdes showing Barca what they will miss

By Iain Rogers

MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes has hit some of the best form of his career in the opening weeks of the season, making it all the more perplexing for the club's fans that he appears determined to stand by his decision to leave.

The 31-year-old, a product of the club's youth academy who made his first-team debut in the 2002-03 campaign, announced last term he was quitting because the pressure of being Barca's first choice keeper for a decade had taken its toll.

He refused the offer of a contract extension beyond June 2014 and said he wanted to experience different cultures and different languages, prompting speculation he could accept a lucrative offer from big-spending Ligue 1 side Monaco.

Barca have made a solid start to the La Liga season under new coach Gerardo Martino and will be chasing a fifth win in five matches at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday (1800 GMT).

However, three of their four league wins have been by a single goal and Valdes has made a host of vital interventions that have helped avert an early setback to the club's bid for a sixth title in five years.

He was also decisive in Wednesday's Champions League Group H opener at home to Ajax Amsterdam, including stopping Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's 77th-minute penalty with a typically athletic dive.

Valdes has been praised by coach Gerardo Martino and team mates for his professionalism and his form has prompted calls for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque to give him the keepers' spot ahead of captain Iker Casillas.

"I would be very excited to win this Champions League and I want to win it in whatever manner possible," Valdes, who won the competition with Barca in 2006, 2009 and 2011, told reporters after the 4-0 success against the Dutch champions.

"I know that it will be the last one I compete in with Barca," he added.

"I am very grateful for the people's support. That gives me even more confidence."

Barca are the only team along with Atletico Madrid with a perfect 12 points from their four La Liga games.

Atletico, who started their Champions League campaign with a 3-1 win at home to Zenit St Petersburg, play at Real Valladolid on Saturday (2000) and will have combative forward Diego Costa back after he was suspended for the Zenit match.

STRANGE THINGS

Real Madrid host city rivals Getafe on Sunday (1700) fresh from knocking six goals past Galatasaray midweek and record signing Gareth Bale could make his second start after coming on as a second-half substitute in Istanbul.

The Wales winger, who became the world's most expensive player when Real bought him from Tottenham Hotspur for 100 million euros in the close season, scored on debut at Villarreal in last weekend's 2-2 draw.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti was buoyed by the news on Wednesday that central defender Raphael Varane and fullback Fabio Coentrao trained with their team mates for the first time since being sidelined by injuries.

Getafe came from a goal down to stun Real 2-1 at their Coliseum stadium in the Madrid suburbs last season and midfielder Diego Castro said anything was possible at the Bernabeu on Sunday.

"You cannot fear anyone in football," Castro told a news conference on Wednesday. "Strange things often happen."

Real Sociedad need to pick themselves up for Saturday's match at home to Malaga (1400) after they fell 2-0 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

Moores set for England recall

Moores set for England recall

The 51-year-old will succeed Andy Flower, who stepped down after five years in charge following the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia in January. More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »