FC Barcelona travel to Madrid tomorrow where they will face struggling Rayo Vallecano. Paco Jemez’ side sit in a respectable 12th place, but having claimed just four points from their last six games, Rayo are in danger of slipping towards the relegation zone. Barcelona on the other hand will be looking for their eighth league win of the season, and even with Javier Mascherano set to miss out through suspension, the Blaugrana are clear favourites to claim the three points in tomorrow’s encounter.
In doing so, Barca would extend their lead over Real Madrid to a staggering eleven points, and they would also move three points clear of second place Atletico Madrid. However, the form book can be deceiving. For instance, Deportivo La Coruna had only claimed two points out of a possible eighteen heading into last week’s match with Barcelona, but as we well know, that game was a lot closer than anticipated. Could Tito Vilanova find himself in a similar situation tomorrow? Will Rayo do the other Madrid-based teams a favour by pulling off an upset?
There’s been mixed fortunes on the defensive front for Barcelona this week as there was good news in the form of a return for Dani Alves and the emergence of Marc Bartra, but there was also bad news as Javier Mascherano’s one-game suspension was upheld – twice. With Gerard Piqué still sidelined, that leaves Barcelona awfully short of options for central defense – which goes some way to explaining why Barca have conceded nine goals in their last six away games.
Victor Valdés will start in goal tomorrow and as Luis said in the latest edition of the excellent Barca Blaugranes show, it would be great if Barca kept a clean sheet tomorrow evening. Personally, I’ve had enough excitement for this season, or at least for the remainder of this year – a clean sheet tomorrow would suit me fine.
In defense, Dani Alves has made the squad for the first time since the Clasico, but just as Bostjan commented in the Daily Poll, this might not be the best time to risk the Brazilian. First of all, Alves wasn’t in the best form of his career prior to his injury, and secondly, Montoya might just be the better option. He was rested on Tuesday and defensively, the La Masia graduate gives more to the team than Alves. Alongside Montoya, I would certainly opt for Marc Bartra, and although Alex Song is the favourite to start in defense, I think Adriano should start in the other centre-back position. As a left-footer, Adriano gives the backline a natural balance – although more to the point, he has been better at CB than Song. That allows Jordi Alba to keep his place at left-back; can the Spaniard claim his third goal of the week? While it might seem unlikely, only three players have scored more than Alba this season – Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas and David Villa. On an unrelated note, reports of Barcelona agreeing a deal for Neymar have been circulating in recent days...
Anyway, in midfield Barcelona will be buoyed by the return of Sergio Busquets who missed out on Tuesday’s win over Celtic courtesy of his one-game UEFA suspension. Busquets wasn’t exactly missed on Tuesday, but don’t under-estimate his importance in central midfield, especially with Mascherano, Piqué and Puyol all sidelined. Xavi and Cesc Fàbregas seem the obvious choices in midfield, with Fàbregas exceptional in last week’s 5-4 win over Deportivo – despite being criticised at the start of the season, Cesc has been the second-most productive Barca player in terms of goals and assists. His inclusion in the starting XI tomorrow would be a massive boost on such a small pitch in the sense that there is unlikely to be enough room for dribbling.
In attack, Lionel Messi will start barring some disaster; the only question is who will start alongside him? David Villa could start on the left, although El Guaje has been better off the bench this season, which could give Cristian Tello a chance to prove his worth. Maybe Andrés Iniesta will be pushed out wide, or will Pedro keep his place on the left? Personally, I would opt for Pedro on the left, with Villa on the left, but it’s hard to predict what Vilanova will prefer.
Rayo had a tough time last week, going down 3-2 to fellow strugglers Espanyol – despite taking the lead. They had centre-half Mikel Labaka sent off, although Catalan international Jordi Amat could return after missing the past few games through injury. Top-scorer Leo Baptistao should start after a fabulous start to life in La Liga – the Brazilian only scored four times last season for Rayo B, but he has already equalled that tally in roughly a third of the time. Andrija Delibasic is likely to start in attack alongside Baptistao, especially if Jemez wants to exploit the lack of height in the Barca ranks.
Rayo Vallecano 0-7 FC Barcelona – 29th April 2012 – La Liga
Barcelona bounced back from their UEFA Champions League exit against Chelsea with an emphatic away victory over their Madrid-based hosts as goals from Messi (2), Pedro (2), Seydou Keita, Thiago Alcântara and Roberto Correa (OG) secured the three points and a much-needed confidence boost.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Bartra, Adriano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
Rayo (4-2-3-1): Ruben; Tito, Jordi Amat, Galvez, Casado; Javi Fuego, Abu; Jose Carlos, Leo Baptistao, Piti; Delibasic
Barcelona to win with relative ease, although if Barca doesn’t get a goal by half-time, Rayo stand a good chance of claiming a point or three. I say 2-0 Barcelona.