Barcelona will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing midweek defeat at the hands of AC Milan tomorrow as they host Sevilla at the Camp Nou. Following the dismissal of Michel and the appointment of former Valencia coach Unai Emery, Los Rojiblancos have been surging up the La Liga table, although they are still five points away from Rayo Vallecano, who occupy the final European qualification place. Will Sevilla be able to compound what has been a miserable week for Culés across the globe, or will the Blaugrana secure a much-needed victory ahead of two consecutive Clasicos?
Eric Abidal is back! Not many players are able to say that they have recovered sufficiently from a transplant to return to football – and even fewer (if any) – can boast that they have returned from a liver transplant, although after tomorrow, Eric Abidal might just be able to do so. Named in the squad for the first time in almost a year, Abidal isn’t necessarily expected to feature tomorrow, but what does it really matter? After receiving the medical green light this week, what’s important is that Abidal will make his long-awaited return at some stage; a welcome boost following Wednesday’s demoralising defeat.
Victor Valdés will start in goal tomorrow and the Catalan is searching for just his second clean sheet of the year. To think that the league leaders – run-away league leaders for that matter – have been so porous defensively is almost criminal, although if you’re a "glass half-full" kind of person, it also means that our offense has been operating on a completely different level. More on that later, but for the love of all that’s right, can we just keep a clean sheet tomorrow?
Of course, our hopes also rest on the defense, who clearly need to be rotated ahead of the Clasico double-header. Martin Montoya has been excellent in each and every appearance for the first-team, so why not capitalise on his talents and start him against Sevilla? Similarly, Marc Bartra has proved to be a more than adequate stand-in for the likes of Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol, so let’s start him tomorrow as well. Javier Mascherano is likely to start in the heart of defense, providing more than enough experience to cover for Bartra and given that Adriano is sidelined through injury, we’re also going to see either Jordi Alba and/or Dani Alves – so long as Montoya starts, I’m not too fussed who Roura chooses.
Sergio Busquets was fairly anonymous in Wednesday’s defeat (did anyone have a good game?) and as a result, I and many others feel he should sit tomorrow’s match out, especially given that Alex Song has improved in recent outings. Jonathan dos Santos trained with the squad today too, but the Mexican has about as much hope of starting as you or I. Alongside Alex Song, I’m predicting that Roura will opt for a midfield pairing of Thiago Alcântara and Andrés Iniesta, allowing Xavi Hernández to fully recuperate ahead of the Clasico double-header.
Moving onto the Barça attack, am I the only one surprised at the sheer number of goals that the Blaugrana have scored so far this season? We are just 24 matches into a 38 game La Liga season, and Barcelona have already notched 80 goals, meaning that they are on course to eclipse the record set last season by Real Madrid. In fact, if Barça continue to score goals at their current rate (a distinct possibility given that FCB might not progress in the UCL) they will reach 127 in a single league season, some 13 goals more than their previous high, also set last season. Of the 80 goals scored, Lionel Messi has 37, and no-one is even surprised. It doesn’t even matter that he’s on course to grab 58 goals this league season – by now, we almost expect it from the Argentine. He wasn’t at his best on Wednesday, but if anyone deserves a little slack, it’s Messi. He will probably start tomorrow, whether we like it or not, and he by the end of the game, probably by the time he’s scored a goal or two, Wednesday’s performance will seem like a distant memory. However, who starts with him in attack? Alexis Sánchez? Pedro? Cristian Tello? Could David Villa make a comeback? It all depends on who Roura and Tito want to start on Tuesday; so I’m guessing at rare starts for Sánchez and Tello.
Despite rumoured interest from Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, Sevilla managed to keep hold of star striker Alvaro Negredo in the winter transfer window, but the Spanish international has hit something of a dry spell in front of goal, notching just one goal since the deadline. However, Sevilla’s home form has not suffered, thanks to contributions from their midfield – including a brace for Gary Medel in last weekend’s win over Deportivo. That being said, Sevilla continue to struggle away from home with just one away victory to their name this season and given that their away defense is amongst the worst in La Liga, I’d say they have their work cut out for them at the Camp Nou.
Sevilla FC 2-3 FC Barcelona – 29th September 2012 – La Liga
Barcelona produced a superb comeback to fight back from a two goal deficit at the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan, as goals from Cesc Fàbregas (2) and David Villa secured the three points for the Blaugrana in an incident-packed 90 minutes.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Mascherano, Piqué, Alba; Song, Thiago, Iniesta; Sánchez, Messi, Tello
Sevilla (4-2-3-1): Beto; Coke, Fazio, Spahic, Navarro; Medel, Maduro; Navas, Rakitic, Reyes; Negredo
This one’s tough to call. On paper, Barça should win but there are just so many question marks. Does Roura rest players ahead of the two Clasicos, or does he stick with the "first-team" and ensure that Barça bounce back from their midweek defeat? Either way, I think Barcelona will win, but this has the potential to be a season-defining match. I’m going for a difficult 3-2 victory.