Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno
FC Barcelona will face off against Getafe at the Camp Nou on Sunday. The 23rd round of La Liga will see the Madrid-based team try to break the three-way tie on points it has to lay sole claim to tenth place. Meanwhile, Barca will seek to widen its distance at the top from two other Madrid teams, Atletico and Real Madrid.
Barcelona will receive Getafe in what should be an interesting encounter between the league leaders and a midtable team.
Getafe, with 29 points, is tied with Valladolid and Sevilla for tenth place, but falls to twelfth on goal difference. Los Azulones lost the previous meeting between the sides in the first half of La Liga, 4-1.
Because of the international break, Lionel Messi came off the bench and scored a brace which transformed a terse 1-0 lead into a commanding 3-0 advantage. Adriano Correia and David Villa were on target as well, while Javier Mascherano's own goal was Getafe's lone tally.
By coincidence, the two teams meet again after the international break. Barcelona supply a great amount of players to the Spanish national team, and in addition, every foreign player has been called up to their respective national team.
Meanwhile, Getafe's Medhi Lacen (Algeria) and Abdelaziz Barrada (Morocco) were away on their Africa Cup of Nations duty until their teams were eliminated. The only other capped player in the squad is Federico Fernandez, who started alongside Mascherano and Messi in Argentina's 3-2 triumph against Sweden.
Could the dreaded "FIFA virus" strike again, as a tired Barca are upset by the plucky Getafe?
Getafe line up in the fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation, but they are on the whole not very fashionable. Their main shirt sponsor last year was Burger King, and they are infinitely smaller than their neighbors Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. They are, however, the proud team of a bustling city in the Madrid metropolitan area.
They lack vast resources but they have achieved famous results, not the least of which was a 1-0 win over Barcelona last season.
The team has been firmly midtable this term: not particularly good at scoring or at defending, pretty good at home and not quite as good away; they still have locked up key points by getting tough results.
Their crowning achievement was a 2-1 comeback victory against Real Madrid early in the season, with Juan Valera and Barrada getting the goals. Also impressive was a win away to Athletic Bilbao and a grinding 1-0 triumph at home against Malaga.
Since that game versus Malaga, Getafe went on a dry run: no victories in nine games. However, they enjoyed a confidence boosting 3-1 triumph against bottom-of-the-table Deportivo La Coruña in their last match.
Their top scorer is Diego Castro, who as an attacking midfielder or winger has netted 5 times. After that, they have relied on several different players to get the goals. Tied for number two top-scorer is Alexis Ruano, a central defender, which says as much about his heading ability as it does about Getafe's lack of reliable scoring.
Miguel Angel Moya is the number one keeper and has been very good so far this season. He won't win the Zamora Trophy for the best goals against average, but he has saved Getafe more than a few times and is apt with his feet.
The only problem? He is suspended after being sent off in the match against Depor. Jordi Codina was good as an emergency substitute. The Barcelona-born Real Madrid product (imagine that!) will start against Barcelona.
Pedro Leon, on loan from Real Madrid, has been a key performer as well. He's chipped in two goals, but more than that, he's been a dangerous passer, registering 4 assists in the league. He is also a good crosser of the ball from the right wing.
Leon has been injured but is set to make his comeback against Barca, though it is a game-time decision according to manager Luis Garcia.
Barrada has been a key piece of the offensive puzzle, producing three goals (second on the team) and five assists (first) in the league. A good dribbler who can play anywhere among the three-man band, he's also unafraid to let shots fly.
Xavi Torres is the man charged with running the midfield from a central position. Not as accomplished as his namesake, Barca's Xavi Hernandez, he is still a solid "regista" (deep-lying playmaker.)
Getafe don't keep possession much, but rather try to create chances with long balls towards their speedy forwards. They also like taking long shots and can score goals on set pieces. Garcia has stated he will be brave, trying to press Barca higher up the pitch.
He has stated he will not play with a "trivote" of three defensive midfielders, though he recognizes that sitting back is a useful strategy against Barcelona. He insists that Los Cules are not as strong defensively so it will be important to be ready to counter.
Getafe has sometimes gone with the trivote 4-3-3 or the 4-4-2, but in all likelihood, they will go with a defensive 4-2-3-1.
With Codina in goal, Alexis will start in the center of defense. His partner could be Alberto Lopo, coming back from injury, or, with Rafa Lopez out, it could be Fernandez.
Juan Valera, the regular right-back, is injured, forcing Miguel Torres to move from the left to the right. Sergio Escudero, who has only made one league appearance, will fill in at left-back as Mané Jimenez is out.
Borja Fernandez should cover Xavi Torres in the center of midfield, with the other option, Juan Rodriguez, out.
The next band will likely include Jaime Gavilán on the left, Barrada through the middle, and Castro on the right. Angel Lafita has featured in the past, but he is out, while Pablo Sarabia is likely to remain on the bench. Pedro Leon is not ready to start the match, according to Garcia, but could be a sub.
Adrian Colunga has been the starter in the striker position for the past few games and it should remain so. Alvaro Vazquez has been good off the bench, and could be pushing for a return to the starting XI.
Getafe has struggled with injuries and suspensions in the past, which has resulted in a noticeable dip in form. Despite missing key men (Moya, Mane, Rafa, Rodriguez and Valera especially), Getafe feel that they are on the upswing.
The jetlag from the international break could affect Barca, as well as the lack of Xavi. Still, one feels that the mighty Barcelona team should have enough in the tank to win at home against a resilient but weakened Getafe.
Possible XI: Codina; Miguel Torres, Alexis, Fernandez, Escudero; Xavi Torres, Borja; Gavilán, Diego Castro, Barrada; Colunga (4-2-3-1)