One of the most surprising quotes to come out of Pep Guardiola’s pre-match press conference yesterday was not about the points gap to first place, but it was about Real Madrid’s implosion against Villarreal on Wednesday. Although not in the way you might expect. Apparently, in the Guardiola household, Pep is not the one in charge of the remote. Rather than watching a pivotal moment in the title race, and indeed the season of Spanish football, Pep watched a movie with his family. I don’t remember the movie’s title, but whatever it was, it can’t have been as enthralling as the 90 minute long black comedy that unfolded at El Madrigal.
Like Tuesday, here a few key battles that the Blaugrana must win if they have aspirations of getting all three points.
Pedro vs Gianni Zuiverloon
Depending on who starts on left-wing, I think that one of the key battles will be between Gianni Zuiverloon and a Barcelona winger. Sticking true to my preview, I think it will be Pedro on the left-hand side, although quite literally the possibilities are endless. Isaac Cuenca has played on the left in some of his best games for the club, as has Cristian Tello. Even Sanchez has at some stage. Whatever the case, whomever gets the nod, they will have to pay close attention to the Dutchman. Signed on a free transfer after being released by West Bromwich Albion, Zuiverloon hasn’t been a regular starter by any stretch of the imagination, which begs the question: why am I including him in this article?
Well, if he does start like he did in Mallorca’s midweek win over Gijon, then there will be space to exploit. As one might expect from a Dutchman, he likes to attack, and often that leaves a whole bunch of space for opponents to exploit. However, it also gives Mallorca an extra man on the wings, and especially if Pep opts for a 3-4-3, that could be devastating. So, whoever starts left-wing must also track back on occasions to cover that overlapping run, making Pedro by far and away the outstanding candidate.
Cesc Fabregas vs Fernando Tissone
In midfield, everyone knows how the Blaugrana are unequivocally the best in the business. Every midfielder in their squad, whether it is the senior squad, B team or even lower, they all know how to keep possession and create chances. Cesc Fabregas is no exception. Since his summer transfer, Cesc has been a revelation and despite claims that he would have to settle for a place on the bench, he has surprised us all by becoming the second top goalscorer this season. Tonight however, he will probably have to contend with Fernando Tissone.
Tissone may not be the best player in the world, but just a quick glance at his record indicates he is probably one of the dirtiest midfielders in Spanish football. The Argentine was signed on loan from relegated Sampdoria in the summer, and since then he has racked up nine yellow cards in his 22 Liga appearances, including four in his last five matches. Tissone is unsurprisingly a tough tackler in the middle of the park, and as we look for Cesc to regain his best form, I think we might have to temper expectations a little and merely hope he doesn’t get injured!
Gerard Pique vs Tomer Hemed
Much like Barcelona have their mercurial number 10, Mallorca’s standout player also wears a number ten on his back. Tomer was signed in the summer on a free transfer from Maccabi Haifa, and since then, considering the expectations, has been one of the signings of the season. His six goals are a team-high figure, although he hasn’t scored in the league since January, which coincidentally was against Real Madrid in a 2-1 loss. Tomer rarely completes the full 90 minutes, either coming off the bench, or being withdrawn late on, but while he is on the pitch, he must fancy his chances against Gerard Pique.
Tomer isn’t the tallest of strikers, but he is no pushover either so Geri will have to be at his best to deny the Israeli a chance to break his goal-scoring duck.