Just a quick question: have Barcelona’s objectives really changed over the course of the week? Sure, the defeat against Getafe has forced many to accept the fact that the league title may be an unfeasible goal, but just generally, I would argue that Barcelona’s aims have not changed. At the end of the day, this team goes out on the field to win every match it plays, unlike some of the other clubs in the world.
If they are successful with this basic goal – winning every match they contest – then they will win the League title, they will win the UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup. However, don’t go putting money on a clean sweep by the Blaugrana just yet...
While the home form is beyond excellent, Barcelona needs to work on their away performances, although with the next three matches taking place at the Camp Nou, the first away game since Getafe will be the one that counts: Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. This leaves literally zero margin for error, but the last few years have told us to keep the faith even when it seems hopeless.
Perhaps I am exaggerating, but Barcelona started out the Guardiola era with two poor results that could have led to the Catalan being sacked. The first was a 1-0 defeat away to Numancia and the second was a 1-1 draw with Racing Santander at the Camp Nou. Some called for Pep’s head on a silver platter, but Laporta stuck with him instead of making a snap decision. To use a cliché, the rest is history.
Losing to Hercules at home was another low moment, but no-one lost the faith and Barcelona recovered to win the title. Different circumstances? Of course, but the principle remains, this team has recovered from seemingly hopeless situations before. Until the final nail is driven down into the coffin, there is still hope. By the off-chance that any of the Barcelona players are reading, just imagine how insufferable the Real Madrid contingent would be on International duty for the European Championships...Surely that is motive enough?
That brings us onto Tuesday’s match against Rayo Vallecano, undoubtedly one of the surprise packages of the season so far. Currently up as high as 10th place, Rayo have traditionally been one of the clubs that yo-yo between the top division and the Segunda. However, Jose Ramon Sandoval has created a fine side with the limited resources available so this encounter may not be easy as some predicted at the start of the season.
With Espanyol legend Raul Tamudo leading the front-line, Rubin Kazan loanee Jordi at the back and ex-Barcelona youth player Dani Pacheco in attacking midfield the spine of their team could be raring to go against a Barcelona side that may be slow out of the traps. The first half will be vital for the Blaugrana; if they fail to score, the crowd may turn and that will only add to their problems. Guardiola could be tempted by the 3-4-3, especially as Rayo are unlikely to play quite as defensive as the teams before them.
I for one would prefer if Barcelona stuck to one system, enabling the players to settle in a given position rather than all this tinkering, but Guardiola must go for the jugular come kick-off. An early goal or three would calm the nerves, and it is important that the team start to believe in themselves, particularly the stuttering attack. If Pedro can score early – or at all – he is sure to take a much-needed morale boost. David Villa could be the same although the Spaniard seems to be in a much deeper lull than his colleague.
Victor Valdes needs to keep a clean sheet; despite boasting the best record in Spain he has been a little shaky in recent matches. Given his record at the Camp Nou, I would be inclined to say that he does just that, but you never know, especially with Tamudo upfront. That is why the first-choice defense must be played, and this may aggravate a few Barca fans, but there is one noticeable tweak to my back-line.
Carles Puyol is partnered by Gerard Pique in the centre of defense, with Dani Alves in his usual right-back position, but I would (for the time being) argue a change is necessary at left-back. Adriano is now back from injury and his form prior to that was simply brilliant. I know that he was moved up to the left-wing for the majority of this period, but as we all know with Alves, the full-back position at Barcelona is far more complex. Whoever starts at full-back is expected to do their part defensively, but also offer an extra dimension to the attack.
Alves does this superbly, although recent matches have been difficult for the Brazilian. My theory is that teams understand Alves is the only full-back pushing forward, and compensate with extra cover. Can they afford to do the same if both full-backs push on? With both wing-backs offering themselves as an offensive option Barcelona can mix it up a little, making it harder for the defending team.
Sergio Busquets would start as anchor man, and drop back as a third centre-back when necessary just as he has done for the past few seasons. Recently Sergio has looked a little lost in the middle of the field, but much of this is down to Guardiola constantly changing his role. This meant more pressure was on Xavi to create chances and dictate the tempo, two roles that require different positioning. Hence, his effectiveness dropped, until the game at the San Siro where he played in his usual position and reaped the rewards with a goal (or two depending on your viewpoint).
The midfield has missed Andres Iniesta, as any team would, but his return will surely be a huge boost. Until he is fit to start (one would presume Levante is that point) Barcelona must "make do" with Cesc Fabregas. Again, he was sorely missed at the weekend, but I trust that Cesc has sufficiently recovered to play his part against Rayo Vallecano. That will be great news for the attack, and Lionel Messi in particular. Messi wasn’t his usual self in Madrid over the weekend, but he will be desperate to regain his lead in the Pichichi, thus knocking Cristiano Ronaldo off the top spot. It is vital that Messi gets back to his best prior to El Clasico, as our chances depend mostly on the mercurial Argentine.
Pedro should start on the left-wing, and considering the line-up on Saturday, I would suggest that both Alexis Sanchez and David Villa should be dropped to the bench. That leaves a spot for Isaac Cuenca, and who would disagree with his selection? Cuenca can create chances, and the bottom line is that Barcelona needs someone who can do that at the moment. Whether Pep agrees is another matter, but here’s my favoured XI, and a pure guess at what Guardiola will pick:
Favoured XI (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Cesc; Pedro, Cuenca, Messi
Possible Guardiola XI (3-4-3): Valdes; Puyol, Pique, Mascherano; Keita, Cesc, Xavi, Thiago; Pedro, Messi, Villa
For all those still feeling down after the weekend’s events, it should be noted that the 29th of November was a good day for FC Barcelona last season. The kick-off was 21:00 CET on a weekday, against an opponent from Madrid at the Camp Nou...
Match Prediction: Barcelona to win, I would predict a 3-1 scoreline with Messi and Cesc getting the goals.