With all the focus surrounding the UEFA Champions League draw and the terrible news involving Eric Abidal, one could be forgiven for forgetting that Barcelona have a league match tomorrow. Not just any match either; tomorrow Barcelona travel to one of Spanish football’s toughest locations: the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan to face under-achieving Sevilla. Football may seem irrelevant almost after yesterday’s news, but we owe it to Eric to continue supporting the team.
Pep Guardiola put it best in his pre-match press conference (quotes via @barcastuff):
"Still surprised about Abidal's strong will. [He] Played several games and kept on training every day knowing he needed a new liver."
That is just extra-ordinary, in every single possible way. This is a guy who knew that he faced a battle to not only play football again, but lead a normal life, and yet he continued to train, continued to play for our club. Abidal had no affiliation to the club before his move, yet he felt it was necessary to put the club and its fans ahead of his own health. Eric Abidal is an inspiration for us all, and I speak for all football fans when I wish him a full recovery – whether he plays football again is secondary at this stage.
Knowing this amazing piece of information, we owe it to Abidal to show the club the same support and level of dedication he did. The squad are sure to be impacted by the news, but it just adds extra incentive. Every match, every win, every trophy. The players will want more than anything to return to Barcelona on May 28 with at least one trophy and declare: "This is for Eric."
Tomorrow’s match with Sevilla could not come at a worse time for the Blaugrana, with Sevilla welcoming back a number of key faces. Alvaro Negredo has been recalled to the squad for the first time this month, while Fredi Kanoute has also recovered from a muscle injury. As if that wasn’t enough, tenacious Chilean midfielder Gary Medel is available after serving a suspension in Sevilla’s 1-0 loss at Sporting Gijon. On the other hand, Los Rojiblancos are without Federico Fazio and Coke, who both started in last week’s defeat.
There is good news on the injury front for FC Barcelona as well, with Alexis Sanchez and Thiago Alcantara being cleared to play tomorrow, although I doubt either will be fit to start in such a volatile situation. The corresponding fixture earlier in the season ended 0-0 after the best goal-keeping display of the season so far by Javi Varas, and it remains the only blemish on Barcelona’s impressive home record. We all know Barcelona’s troubles away from home, but we have reason to be optimistic heading into tomorrow evening’s match.
Victor Valdes in entering the match off the back of his first clean sheet for months, and also after Racing Santander goalkeeper Mario’s praise, in which he declared Valdes as the "most complete keeper", noticeably ahead of Iker Casillas. Sure, Victor stands little chance of displacing the Spanish captain heading into this summer’s European Championships, but a good showing tomorrow will hold him in good stead in his continued quest to win the Zamora trophy.
Then we get to the defense. While I feel it is secondary to discuss the growing concern over the left-back position given the circumstances, tomorrow’s match will be a baptism of fire for whoever Guardiola chooses to take Abidal’s place. In all likelihood it will be former Sevilla man Adriano at left-back, but there is a chance that Carles Puyol, newly promoted Marc Muniesa or even Javier Mascherano could fill in for the Frenchman. In my opinion, Pep knew of the developing situation before it became public, and that is why he experimented with a 3-4-3/Puyol at left-back 4-3-3 last week. However, Adriano gets my vote tomorrow.
Alongside Adriano will probably be Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, with Dani Alves on the right-side, but I cannot rule out Javier Mascherano given his exemplary form. With Granada on Tuesday, I feel Masch will be rested so Pique can look to rebuild his form alongside his friend and captain, Carles Puyol. Anyway, back to the baptism of fire, Adriano or whoever starts at left-back will likely have to contend with tricky winger Jesus Navas. Alves rates him as one of the toughest players he has ever faced, although Adriano’s experience playing with Navas at Sevilla does give him an upper-hand over Puyol and company.
In the middle of the park, I was greatly impressed by the combination of Sergio Busquets (who was faultless last week), Xavi (always a pleasure to watch), Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas. However, unless Pep wants to cripple the team by opting for a 3-4-3, only three will start, and I think that with Granada on the mind, Pep will opt for the first three, leaving Cesc in reserve if necessary. Seydou Keita may be considered for a start against his former club, but an appearance off the substitute bench seems far more likely.
Offensively, it is positive news that Alexis has recovered sufficiently to be named amongst the squad, but also it is a little worrying as I am a huge fan of Pedro. Pedro has been given a chance to regain his form in the past weeks, but remains without a goal, and while I think Pep will stick by him, the allure of Isaac Cuenca and particularly Cristian Tello grows stronger with each passing week. In my opinion, Pedro remains one of the best players in the world, despite his lack of form. We went through the same thing last season, before Pedro silenced the critics by completely destroying Edwin Van Der Sar for Barcelona’s first goal in the UEFA Champions League final. If you don’t believe me, try and find the opposite angle of his goal, where he stares directly at the legendary keeper, out-psyching him before sending the ball into the corner.
I want more than anything to see that Pedro return, and it’s simply a matter of time. Lionel Messi will start in the centre, looking to score what seems to be his millionth goal in the last few games. Mascherano describes him best when he call him an "assassin in front of goal", and Leo may just beat Cesar’s all-time goal-scoring record by Wednesday morning. At 24. Not only that, but Leo makes everyone else better, and I think that Cristian Tello could be in for a start tomorrow, just so Pedro can return to his usual right-wing position. Whatever the case, it promises to be a good test for the Blaugrana.
Predicted Line-up: Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Adriano; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta; Pedro, Lionel Messi, Cristian Tello
Match Prediction: Barcelona to put their away day blues firmly in the past with a 3-1 victory.