FC Barcelona travel to Andalusia tomorrow where they will take on in-form Granada at the Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes. Following last week’s convincing 6-1 win over Getafe, Barcelona moved twelve points clear at the top of La Liga and therefore – in theory – the Blaugrana can afford to drop points tomorrow. Of course, no team takes to the field with the objective of dropping points, but it does mean that Jordi Roura can rotate his squad without fear of opening up the title race and as a result, he can keep our star players fresh for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first-leg against AC Milan at the San Siro.
Jonathan dos Santos received the medical green light to return to action this week, although as expected, the Mexican has not made the final squad. However, the big piece of injury news this week involves David Villa, who has been sidelined with a nephritic colic infection. It sounds like a nasty illness, and El Guaje has yo-yoed in and out of hospital in the past week suffering from intense pain meaning that he will miss tomorrow’s game – in fact, Villa is also expected to miss next week’s match against AC Milan too. At this point in time though, all that matters is that Villa recovers quickly.
In goal tomorrow, expect to see Victor Valdés start between the sticks looking for his first clean sheet since January 6. Barça defeated Espanyol 4-0 that night, but have conceded twelve goals in the nine games since that win – hardly great, but not exactly terrible either. There have been rumours circulating regarding the future of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, rumours that were promptly dismissed by the Blaugrana. However, as each day passes, it becomes more and more obvious that Barça are planning to sign a goalkeeper this summer; while Valdés is expected to leave. The question is: would that be the right decision? Can we afford to sign both a keeper and a defender – and I’m not talking in terms of transfer fees here – we all know how difficult players find it to adapt to the Barcelona’s unique style; wouldn’t two signings of that magnitude put us at a disadvantage headed into next season?
Anyway, I digress; moving onto the defense and indeed the outfield players in general, just who is going to start against AC Milan? After all, if we knew who was going to start against Milan, then we could probably make an accurate guess at who is going to start tomorrow. Dani Alves is likely to be rested for Wednesday, but who would start in his absence? Martin Montoya is the obvious replacement, but he hasn’t seen much game-time recently – will Jordi Roura be comfortable thrusting the young Spaniard back into the limelight? With any luck, he will start, but if not, maybe both Alves and Alba can each play a half with Adriano playing the full 90 minutes.
In the heart of defense, Marc Bartra should start, although whether he does is another matter altogether. Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol need – nay, they deserve – some rest ahead of Milan, and Bartra, along with Mascherano, is one of our only back-ups. The math is relatively simple, yet I still have this nagging feeling that Piqué will start...
At pivote, Sergio Busquets may start, especially as he did not even feature against Getafe. Alex Song took his place that night, and he could feature again, but it seems more likely that Busi will play at least the first half – if not more. Ahead of Busquets, with Xavi still sidelined, Barça don’t really have much in the way of choice. Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and Thiago Alcântara – two must start, and that’s at the very least. If I were to choose, I would opt for Fàbregas and Thiago, although equally, Roura might prefer to start the more creative Iniesta if he does the unthinkable and rests Lionel Messi.
Speaking of the Argentine, will he start tomorrow? It seems likely given that Villa is out injured, but I’m sure we wouldn’t be averse to seeing him start this one on the bench. He can always come on if required, but it’s probably more likely that he starts and is taken off if (when?) the game is over as a contest. So, who starts alongside Messi? Alexis Sánchez? Pedro? Cristian Tello? Well, Roura will have to choose two and if I were in his shoes, I would go for Sánchez and Tello.
Once again, I’ll refer you to Luis’ magnificent, in-depth scout report. He addresses Granada’s current form, their strategy, their likely line-up and more; to read, follow the link below.
FC Barcelona 2-0 Granada CF – 22 September 2012 – La Liga
Barça left it late to secure victory at the Camp Nou, and would have probably dropped points if it wasn’t for Xavi’s sensational strike on 87 minutes.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Fàbregas, Thiago; Alexis, Messi, Tello
It’s going to be tough; Barça have won just once in their last three away games and with Milan on their mind, we could forgive them for dropping points. However, with that being said, I still expect Barcelona to emerge victorious, maybe with Fàbregas scoring the winner. I’m going for 2-1 Barça.