For the second time in a week, FC Barcelona prepare to take on city rivals Espanyol tomorrow, this time in the final of the Copa Catalunya. Despite Barcelona’s recent dominance of La Liga, the Blaugrana haven’t emerged victorious in this competition since June 2007, when they defeated Espanyol on penalties. Since that night in Sabadell, Barcelona have reached the final on two occasions, losing out to Gimnàstic de Tarragona in September 2007 and most recently to Espanyol in August 2011. Usually, the competition is an opportunity for the B team players to showcase their potential – and that was the case in the semi-finals (where both Barcelona and Espanyol enter the competition, on opposite sides of the bracket) – but this time round, Barcelona appear to be taking the competition seriously. Of the 21 players called up for tomorrow’s match, just eight players are registered to Eusebio Sacristán’s B team – so with that in mind, just who should we expect to see take to the field tomorrow evening at the Camp d’Esports?
The last time Barcelona reached the final, Eusebio was in charge, as the Barça B squad were comfortably defeated 3-0 by an Espanyol team featuring many first team regulars – and previous to that, in September 2007, the team was "co-managed" by Frank Rijkaard, and unknown B team coach, Pep Guardiola. In spite of that brilliant coaching combination, the Blaugrana succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against recently relegated Nàstic – although Tito Vilanova is expected to be on the sideline for tomorrow’s match. His squad for tomorrow consists of eight players from the B team (who we will get to later), and thirteen available members of the first-team squad. Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Lionel Messi all miss out through injury, Dani Alves, Cristian Tello, Thiago Alcântara, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya and Marc Muniesa are all away on international duty while both Victor Valdés and Andrés Iniesta have simply been left out of the squad.
That means that Jose Manuel Pinto may start in goal tomorrow, although he will face competition from Oier Olazábal, who started Barça’s narrow semi-final win over Nàstic. Oier is destined for a summer exit from the Camp Nou after six years of service for the B team, and this would probably be a nice way to end his stay with the club – but it ultimately depends on how seriously Tito is preparing to take this match.
In fact, that’s a sentiment that can be applied to the entire team for tomorrow’s match. If Tito really wants the victory, it’s obvious that the first-team regulars will get a run-out, but if he’s looking to evaluate some of the talent, then we’ll get a chance to see some of Eusebio’s B team in action. In defense for example, Patric could start at right-back – but also capable of filling in at right-back is Adriano Correia, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan dos Santos can as well. Iván Balliu is another candidate, but the versatile defender could equally start on the left-hand side of defense – as could Jordi Alba, and of course, Adriano. Even Patric could start at left-back, just as he did in the semi-final. Thankfully, the centre of defense is a little more straight-forward to predict. Sergi Gómez has been called up to the squad, and therefore, I would expect him to start in the centre of defense – and I would also rule out starts for Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano as well, leaving Adriano as the only real alternative for Tito, unless Vilanova wishes to give Alex Song one more chance at centre-half.
In midfield, Jonathan dos Santos should start his second match of the season (although, does this really count?) leaving Sergi Roberto, Xavi, Javi Espinosa, Cesc Fàbregas and Rafinha to fight it out for the remaining two places. My money is on Espinosa and Sergi Roberto – but I’m not really concerned with who starts in midfield, as long as Xavi gets some more rest, but this could be an excellent opportunity for Tito to assess Sergi Roberto ahead of the summer transfer window.
Moving onto the attack, I would expect Rafinha to start in the centre of attack after Cesc Fàbregas completed 90 minutes as the weekend, and barring a change of philosophy, will be required to start again on Saturday against Malaga. Disappointingly, there is no room in the squad for Jean Marie Dongou – but there is space for Gerard Deulofeu, who is expected to start on the left-hand side of attack. With 18 goals in 32 appearances, Deulofeu is fourth top-scorer in the Segunda Division – and could be leaving the Camp Nou on loan next season, with Borussia Dortmund (reportedly) interested in securing his services. Maybe an impressive performance tomorrow evening will convince Tito that Deulofeu can challenge for minutes next season? The final starting berth is likely to go to Pedro, meaning that Alexis Sánchez and David Villa will probably have to settle for a place on the bench.
Full Squad List:
Jose Manuel Pinto, Oier Olazábal; Iván Balliu, Patric Gabarrón, Sergi Gómez, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano Correia, Jordi Alba; Alex Song, Sergio Busquets, Jonathan dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Javi Espinosa, Xavi Hernández, Cesc Fàbregas; Alexis Sánchez, David Villa, Pedro Rodriguez, Gerard Deulofeu, Rafinha Alcântara
Unlike Barcelona, Espanyol have not yet released a squad list for tomorrow’s match (correct at time of publish), but we can expect a team similar to the one that lost 2-0 at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Sunday. In the previous round, only two players from the B team were present in the squad – Victor Alvarez (who has since joined the first-team) and tall striker, David Cubillas.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Oier; Patric, S. Gómez, Adriano, Balliu; JDS, S. Roberto, Espinosa; Pedro, Rafinha, Deulofeu
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Casilla; Mattioni, Colotto, R. Rodriguez, Capdevila; Baena, C. Gomez; Sánchez, Alfonso, Petrov; S. Garcia
It’s tough to call this one – with little indication as to the strength of XI we can expect from Tito tomorrow, or indeed any indication of any sort regarding the Espanyol XI, this is even more of a guess than usual. Anyway, I’m venturing on the pessimistic side, and going for a 2-1 Espanyol win.
Note: This match won’t count towards the "Prediction League", so predict away in the comments below :)