Barcelona will be looking to build upon Tuesday’s comfortable win tomorrow when they play host to Valencia in a fixture that has almost become a weekly occurrence for Pep Guardiola’s team. The result isn’t entirely important with regards to the title race, after all, by the start of play tomorrow I expect Barcelona to be 13 points behind Real Madrid, but a loss would cut the gap between second and third to five points. More importantly, it would hand all the momentum to third-placed Valencia. Losing out on the league is expected at this stage, but falling down to third would be a full-blown disaster.
Luckily, that’s a far-fetched scenario for this squad, especially with the Blaugrana’s impeccable home form. On top of that, our much-maligned away form is no worse than that of Valencia, and should Barcelona win tomorrow, the gap will be at 11 points and truly insurmountable for Los Che.
I was ill during the week, so apologies for the slight dip in the number of our editorial posts, but the midweek game taught me a lot about the team. In the league, there is an increasing feeling amongst the opposition that we are not at our best. Our aura of invincibility is fading – and fast – especially away from home. Last season the guys won each one of their first 10 away league matches, and even a quick glance at the table will show any manager that they can upset the odds. There are incentives to beat the team that is officially viewed as the best, and sometimes the opposition are not afraid, not worried or scared so go onto obtain favourable results. Fortunately, that does not continue into the Champions League.
From the start of the week it was clear: Robin Dutt was scared of FC Barcelona. Well, maybe not scared, but he held a deep respect for what he called a merciless passing machine. He was joking in his press conference, hoping that his team would have a chance heading into the second leg. Barcelona were in control before the match even started. When the match started, that control effectively transformed into a dictatorship. The opposition were oppressed, forced to survive in poverty (possession-wise) and feed off the scraps that were handed their way.
That’s not all; it wasn’t even an overtly impressive performance according to some, but what it was was clinical (Barcelona converted three of their seven shots on target), and a powerful message to everyone else in Europe. If Milan had not destroyed Arsenal in the manner that they did, I would have gone as far as saying it was the most one-sided UCL match of the week. The performance was vintage Barca, showing just why the club remains the favourite to lift the famous trophy again in May at the Allianz. Now all we need is a repeat showing tomorrow.
Victor Valdes will be in goal, although the defense will be forced into a few changes. Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves are both suspended for tomorrow’s match, leaving Pep with a few options. Does he play Martin Montoya at right-back, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique in the centre? Perhaps he moves Puyol out to right-back again, and shifts Eric Abidal to the centre before replacing him with Adriano at left-back?
I could sit here all day listing increasingly unlikely solutions, but there are only really two likely to happen. Either Pep feels a bit risky and goes for a three-man backline of Puyol-Pique-Abidal, or he sticks to what he knows best and a four-man backline of Puyol-Pique-Abidal-Adriano. Given that the first option would leave the flanks open to attack, I think he will stay safe.
Sergio Busquets will return to league action in his usual position, and is it any surprise that Barcelona looked so much better, so much more capable with Busi in the side? Of course not. In the first half he completed more passes that Bayer managed between them, and his relentlessly simple passing game which is akin to reloading a gun allowed them no time to rest, keeping the pressure on the Germans. Aside from Lionel Messi, I would argue Sergio Busquets is one of our most important players, assured of a start tomorrow.
Tomorrow could also be the return of Xavi, but Guardiola would not confirm whether or not the midfield maestro has sufficiently recovered from his calf troubles to start. Playing it safe, I expect Xavi to settle for a spot on the bench, with Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta completing the midfield. However, I would be surprised if we did not see Xavi at all during the match.
Moving onto the attack, we have our "tired" Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi supplying assist after assist, and given his strike towards the end of the Bayer game we could see his goal tally increase a little more regularly again. At the Camp Nou, he is an absolute beast so goals are not my concern; just staying injury-free is the focus. This isn’t an "unimportant match", but it isn’t the most important either. Lord knows why, but I am just a little anxious about Leo playing with the slight chance he could get injured.
Tuesday night was Alexis Sanchez’ best night as a Barcelona player, and somewhat self-centredly, it was all my fault :P
"It’s time the Chilean stepped up to the plate though, turning those near misses into goals. I truly believe that if he can do that, and work on his decision-making, he could reach a level similar to Cristiano Ronaldo." From the Bayer Preview
Consider me a believer Alexis, now just go and reach that next level all right? I think he and Messi will be partnered by Pedro tomorrow, and in hope that Pedro can reach that level he hit in his first/second years at the club; he might even play the 90 minutes.
Match Prediction: A Peptimistic 3-0 home win, Alexis with one, and Messi with the others