FC Barcelona make the trip to the Estadio Nuevo Arcangel tomorrow where they will Segunda side Cordoba in the first leg of their Copa del Rey, round of sixteen clash. Rafael Berges’ team have been in dismal form as of late, having attained just one win in their last six matches, although Los Califas did defeat Eusebio’s B team back in October. Somewhat surprisingly, Tito Vilanova has named just two of Eusebio’s B team in his 19-man squad meaning that some first-team regulars will see game-time ahead of Sunday’s crunch fixture with Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
As mentioned above, Tito Vilanova has picked a strong squad for tomorrow’s match, presumably with January’s hectic schedule in mind. Any away fixture is likely to be difficult, regardless of the opposition, but if the regulars can get the job done tomorrow they will have extra rest when the return leg is played in January – which will undoubtedly play into our favour in the long-run.
Victor Valdés is the one of the only (non-injured) first team players that have been left out of the squad; therefore one can expect Jose Manuel Pinto to start in goal. Pinto is yet to sign an extension to his current deal (which expires at the end of the season), although the veteran keeper has indicated that he would be happy to extend his stay in Catalunya. Pinto looked a little shaky against Alaves, but there can be no doubting his credentials, especially in the Copa.
Defensively, Dani Alves could make his first start since the 4-0 win over Levante, although the Brazilian will face competition from Martin Montoya. The Catalan however may be required to start at left-back – if Tito wants to rest both Adriano and Jordi Alba. Maybe Tito will mix it up completely and play Jonathan dos Santos at right-back with Montoya at left-back? Sure, it’s unlikely that Tito would want to do that, but it’s also difficult to predict exactly what Vilanova is planning with Atletico Madrid in mind. One thing is for certain though, and that involves Carles Puyol. Our captain was substituted on Sunday as a precaution, and while he has been named in the squad, I doubt we will see Puyi take the field. That leaves Javier Mascherano and Alex Song as the obvious centre-back pairing, but don’t count out Marc Bartra, who could easily displace Mascherano and make his return from injury.
In midfield, Jonathan dos Santos should start at pivote, unless Bartra takes Alex Song’s place at centre-half. If that’s the case, then Song would be available to start at pivote which would also allow JDS to start alongside Thiago Alcântara in a more advanced midfield role. Unfortunately, there is no space in the squad for Sergi Roberto, which doesn’t really make sense to me – after all, we should be resting Xavi for matches like this – but what can you do?
In attack, usually this is the section of the match preview where I mention that Lionel Messi will start, and it’s possible that the Argentine will do so tomorrow, but tomorrow’s match provides Tito with a perfect opportunity to assess Alexis Sánchez, David Villa and Cristian Tello. The trio have struggled for fitness and consistency this season, but with Pedro also struggling for form, there are starting spots up for grabs and a good performance tomorrow would not go amiss.
Undoubtedly, this is the game of the season for tomorrow’s hosts. Should Cordoba put in the performance of their season tomorrow, they may well have a memory to cherish for the rest of eternity. Their hopes probably hinge on young Genoa loanee Vincenzo Rennella, who has five league goals to his name so far this season. Tall and powerful, Rennella was touted to be a potential Serie A striker of the future when he joined from Swiss second division side Lugano back in 2008, but he has struggled for consistency in front of goal. Aside from Rennella, Barcelona may have to watch out for former PSG youth player John-Christophe Ayina who was excellent for US Quevilly last season, as the third division side managed an improbable run to the final of the Coupe de France. However, the young centre-forward has not established himself as a regular in Berges’ team and therefore will likely have to settle for a place on the bench.
Cordoba CF 1-0 FC Barcelona – 7th May 1972 – La Liga
A Cordoba side featuring the likes of Vicente del Bosque and former Barcelona defender Sanchis stunned Rinus Michel’s title-chasing team with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a 54th penalty from Fermin. Anyone who wants to read a report of that match can do so by following this link (it's on page 5).
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Mascherano, Bartra, Montoya; Song, Thiago, JDS; Sánchez, Villa, Tello
Cordoba (4-5-1): Garcia; Fernandez, Kiko, Galvez, Fuentes; Lopez Garai, Caballero; Lopez Silva, Gomez, Dubarbier; Rennella
Barcelona should easily win tomorrow, although the margin of victory depends on the strength of the starting line-up. I’m going for a 4-0 Barcelona win.