Messi showing his inner bird of prey
FC Barcelona travel to the Iberostar tomorrow evening to face "in-form" Real Mallorca as they look to cut the gap to league leaders Real Madrid down to just three points. With Real kicking off immediately after the action is done on the island, Barcelona’s result will not hugely impact on the Madrid players, unless either the match is over as a contest by half-time, or the home crowd display some nerves bearing in mind that they know the final score. Whatever the case, all Barcelona can do is continue to build momentum by securing three points, in hope that Real Madrid slip up a couple more times down the road.
While Jose Mourinho is without a whole host of key names, the Blaugrana’s injury crisis is starting to alleviate, although the defense has seen better days. Adriano is out with a muscle injury as per usual it seems, while Eric Abidal’s liver transplant is expected to take place on Monday, and obviously he remains sidelined indefinitely. The red card handed to Dani Alves in Tuesday’s 5-3 win rules him out of contention tomorrow, and should allow young Martin Montoya another chance to shine. Montoya has impressed greatly in his few starts for the senior team, and if he starts tomorrow, Pep will be expecting more of the same.
Here’s the full squad list for tomorrow’s match:
Victor Valdes, Jose Manuel Pinto, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano, Martin Montoya, Marc Muniesa, Marc Bartra, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Seydou Keita, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, Cristian Tello, Isaac Cuenca.
So, certain to start in goal tomorrow is Victor Valdes, and to say any repeat of his three-goal concession against Granada would be disastrous is putting it lightly. Valdes had strung together a good couple of games without conceding, and I would love dearly to see that Valdes in goal tomorrow. If Valdes keep a clean sheet, then obviously the pressure on the attack decreases tremendously, this is something that may not bother Lionel Messi, but would certainly help Pedro and Sanchez find their feet again after injuries.
But then we get to the defense. With Alves suspended, and Adriano out injured, the Blaugrana are dangerously thin at full-back. I constructed four possible solutions to that defensive "crisis", although I am almost certain that it will be the option everyone has predicted: Carles Puyol at left-back. I have no problems with our captain being moved across to cover for Abidal, but I just hope his move doesn’t have a negative impact on Gerard Pique.
Pique hasn’t been playing his best football as of late for whatever reason(s), but if I’m not mistaken, his mistakes are becoming a little less frequent. Sometimes he goes a whole half without making a mistake! Well, maybe I’m being a little sarcastic, but one has to hope that Pique will get better eventually, and that "eventually" could even be tomorrow. Alongside Mascherano and Puyol, you have to think that Pique will eventually pick up on the traits that make Puyi and Masch two of the best centre-backs around: determination and focus. Curiously enough, determination was something Pique possessed, but recently he has been lacking both, hence the poor performances.
With a bit of luck and judgement from Pep, Pique will be placed on the left side of the centre of defense, so that he is not "responsible" for Martin Montoya, a job which at present is better suited to the more agile and crucially, more decisive Javier Mascherano.
In midfield, I anticipate changes/rotation as Guardiola has one eye on the UEFA Champions League tie with AC Milan, although we could potentially learn a lot about our coach with his selction tomorrow. While he continues to say that a Liga comeback is "unlikely" or "impossible", no-one believes him for a second. It is mind games pure and simple, although he has made sure that the team follows suit; everyone reciting from the same hymn sheet if you will.
"Nothing is impossible" has turned into "it will be difficult" when the players talk to the media, but a strong selection with Milan in wait will directly contrast Pep’s "pessimism". So, if Pep rolls out the big guns like Xavi, Busi and Iniesta, then we know he thinks that the league is within reach, and if not, well, you can draw your own conclusions. Personally, I think Guardiola will opt for a mixture of the two, as Busquets, Cesc and Iniesta did not start on Tuesday, so are in line for a call up tomorrow. That’s a strong team, but none of the three need a rest either.
Offensively, Messi will start up front looking to add to his run of 20 goals in his last eight games for club and country. What baffles me most is not his stats, but that some football fans still think he shouldn’t have won the Ballon D’Or, and Ronaldo was more deserving. Some people are beyond saving though. Alongside Messi, I think that Isaac Cuenca and Pedro will be given the nod, purely because Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello are better suited to a start against the ageing and chronically slow Milan backline. Imagine Tello against Mesbah...
However, before the squad cast their attention to Milan, expect them to continue their fine form with another three points.
Predicted Line-Ups: Valdes, Montoya, Pique, Mascherano, Puyol, Busquets, Cesc, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Cuenca
Match Prediction: Barcelona to win 2-0, Messi to score both