FC Barcelona will be looking to maintain their 13 point lead at the top of La Liga tomorrow when they host Real Mallorca at the Camp Nou. The Blaugrana boast the division’s best home record with 40 points from a possible 42 at the Camp Nou, while Mallorca boast one of the division’s worst away records, having won just nine points all season on their travels. However, they may well fancy their chances knowing that Barça will be without a number of first team regulars – including top-scorer Lionel Messi and captain Carles Puyol. Will Mallorca be able to shock the world with a win tomorrow, or will Barcelona move one step closer to the title?
Not only does Tito Vilanova have to contend with a whole host of injuries, but he also has to manage his squad carefully with Barça’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie with PSG still very much in the balance. While the Blaugrana have the upper-hand after a 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes, they still need to secure a favourable result on Wednesday if they are to progress into the semi-finals – meaning that Tito is likely to utilise a number of fringe players tomorrow evening.
Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal as Victor Valdés serves the final match of his four-game suspension, and the veteran keeper would love to end this "run" in the first-team with a good performance. Given that Mallorca average less than a goal a game on their travels this season, Pinto may well be confident of keeping a clean sheet – even with what’s likely to be a second-choice defense in support.
Speaking of the defense, Martin Montoya should start at right-back, allowing Dani Alves to take a well-deserved rest. The Brazilian full-back hasn’t missed a La Liga match since December when he sat out Barcelona’s narrow 2-1 win over Real Betis, and while he demonstrated his importance to the side with a fabulous assist on Tuesday, a little rest never hurt anyone – plus, how long has it been since we saw Montoya start in his natural position? In the heart of defense, Marc Bartra should start for the second successive week, and who knows, maybe he’ll be joined by Alex Song? The Cameroonian was bought to fill in at pivote and centre-half, and while he’s done the former to a degree of success, he’s barely seen enough minutes as the latter to convince anyone – least of all Tito Vilanova – of his abilities. So much so, that Barça have fast-tracked Adriano’s recovery so that he can potentially start alongside Gerard Piqué at centre-half on Wednesday. Hardly a vote of confidence for Song. However, tomorrow he has the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong; it might only be Mallorca, the result might not be important – but it’s a start. That would mean Jordi Alba would have to complete the defense, but the Spaniard is perfectly capable of playing two games in a week. Just a shame, tomorrow could have been a perfect chance to assess Alex Grimaldo...
In midfield, Jonathan dos Santos could and – in my opinion – should get a chance to start at pivote. The Mexican has seen limited game-time this season, just 130 minutes in all competitions, although even with "an injury crisis", there are doubts surrounding JDS. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Song start at pivote ahead of JDS, with either Piqué or even Muniesa starting at centre-half; and it’s not even like we are even given the slightest hint as to why JDS sees such little time. Cesc Fàbregas and Thiago Alcântara should continue their partnership in the two, slightly more advanced, midfield roles with Sergi Roberto a possible candidate if Tito chooses to rest Fàbregas ahead of Wednesday’s match.
Lionel Messi is ruled out through injury, meaning that Barcelona need to either 1) find a new false nine or 2) change their system for a single match. We’ve dabbled with 2) with mixed results, so I’d say that Barça will go with 1) tomorrow, paving the way for Cesc Fàbregas to start in attack rather than midfield. Gerard Deulofeu may be one of the Segunda Division’s leading scorers, but he’s not really a candidate to replace Messi in attack; although Cristian Tello could be an interesting proposition for opposing centre-halves. If I’m wrong and Barcelona go for option 2), well David Villa or Alexis Sánchez would be the obvious candidates and either way, I’d place my money on Tello and Deulofeu to start on either wing.
Gregorio Manzano has said that his team will arrive at the Camp Nou looking to win tomorrow evening; even if the odds are stacked against them. Manzano has guided Mallorca to victory at the Camp Nou on two separate occasions – so perhaps a third isn’t entirely out of reach? Andreu Fontas could make a start on his return to the Camp Nou, although Mallorca will be without Geromel, Luna, Antonio Lopez and Anderson – who have started a combined 51 games between them this La Liga season. Their main attacking threat is a player many Culés will know well: Giovani dos Santos, who has finally found a starting berth some five years after leaving the Camp Nou.
RCD Mallorca 2-4 FC Barcelona – 11th November 2012 – La Liga
Barcelona came close to blowing a three-goal lead as Michael Pereira and Victor brought Mallorca one step closer to cancelling out first-half goals from Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello before another goal from Messi secured the three points.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Song, Bartra, Alba; JDS, Fàbregas, Thiago; Deulofeu, Villa, Tello
Mallorca (4-2-3-1): Aouate; Hutton, Nunes, Fontas, Bigas; Marti, Pina; Nsue, Victor, Giovani; Hemed
Regardless of who starts tomorrow, Barcelona will have too much for Mallorca and could win comfortably. I’m going for a 4-1 Barça win.