Just three days after defeating Malaga in La Liga action, FC Barcelona host Los Boquerones in the first-leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final. Lionel Messi put in an inspirational performance on Sunday night – he not only scored the game’s opening goal, but he also racked up assists for each of the remaining Barcelona goals – and as a result, Tito Vilanova’s side escaped from La Rosaleda with a comfortable 3-1 win. Will Messi be able to replicate that performance and inspire the Blaugrana to another win, or will Malaga bounce back from Sunday’s loss to silence the Camp Nou crowd?
Tito Vilanova has no new concerns heading into tomorrow’s match, although David Villa continues to miss out through injury. El Guaje pulled up with a hamstring injury in last week’s win over Cordoba, but Vilanova revealed that Villa has been suffering with various problems for the majority of the season – possibly explaining his lack of playing time. Despite Villa’s continued absence, Vilanova also confirmed that he will rotate from Sunday’s starting XI.
Therefore, we should expect to see Jose Manuel Pinto between the sticks tomorrow. Given that Malaga managed just two shots on target in Sunday’s defeat, one could argue that it makes no difference who Barcelona start with in goal – unless Malaga improve their offense. Pinto is a good shot-stopper, and while his distribution could be better, he’s certainly still good enough to compete with La Liga’s best.
In defense, Martin Montoya should start at right-back, while I expect Adriano to make his long-awaited return at left-back. The Brazilian was in exceptional form prior to that spell on the treatment table, and his return is sure to be a boost to the Blaugrana heading into what looks to be a difficult encounter. In the centre of defense, I’m thinking that Gerard Piqué may drop to the bench, allowing Carles Puyol a chance to return and partner Javier Mascherano.
In midfield, I suspect that Sergio Busquets may continue at pivote, although Alex Song did do a good job against Cordoba and therefore could get a rare start. To get better, Song is going to need playing time – and not just against Segunda sides. Malaga will test his progress, and what better situation than the first-leg of a quarter-final in the least important competition? Aside from Song or Busquets, Thiago should start his second game in under a week, and I think we’ll see Cesc Fàbregas alongside him in what should be a strong Barca midfield.
Offensively, Lionel Messi will probably start – that is, after he’s shown the Ballon d’Or to the Camp Nou crowd – and I would like to see Alexis Sánchez and Cristian Tello start alongside the Argentine. Alexis might not be playing particularly well, but at least gets chances in his time on the field, while Tello deserves a chance to stretch his legs after a couple of weeks without significant game-time. The question is: can he step up where Alexis struggles by delivering goals?
Manuel Pellegrini has three less players at his disposal headed into this Copa del Rey tie, as both Joaquin and Jeremy Toulalan were left out for technical reasons. Also unavailable is young forward Juanmi, who has been loaned to Racing Santander for the remainder of the season. Carlos Kameni has started in each of Malaga’s previous cup matches – and is expected to do so tomorrow – while Oguchi Onyewu should start at centre-half. Elsewhere, Pellegrini could hand starts to the likes of Duda, Seba Fernandez or even Javier Saviola as he may look to rotate his squad ahead of Saturday’s match with Celta Vigo.
Malaga CF 1-3 FC Barcelona – 13th January 2013 – La Liga
Do you really need me to remind you of Sunday’s match again? :)
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano; Busquets, Thiago, Fàbregas; Alexis, Messi, Tello
Malaga (4-2-3-1): Kameni; Sánchez, Onyewu, Weligton, Monreal; Iturra, Camacho; Fernandez, Buonanotte, Duda; Saviola
Barcelona were just too good for Malaga on Sunday, and I can’t see that too much has changed since then – I’m going for a 2-0 home win