Buoyed by their return to the top of La Liga following Sunday's 4-1 win over Sevilla FC at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, FC Barcelona will be hoping to continue their momentum tomorrow evening by booking the last place in the 2014 Copa del Rey final. After an emphatic 5-0 aggregate win over city rivals Atletico, Real Madrid secured their place in the final earlier tonight, leaving Barça 90 minutes away from the first Clasico final since 2011.
Jose Mourinho's side lifted the trophy on that night, emerging 1-0 winners in extra time courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo's powerful header; so Barcelona have a chance at revenge, just as long as they don't squander a 2-0 aggregate leg in the second leg of their tie against Real Sociedad at the Anoeta.
With a 25 man squad travelling to the Basque Country, Gerardo Martino has a wealth of options at his disposal for tomorrow’s match, knowing that the 2-0 lead from the first-leg could give him the freedom to rest a number of key players. With just a week to go until the return of the UEFA Champions League, resting a few key individuals might not be such a bad idea, particularly as it is unlikely to affect the end result.
Will Martino ring the changes? Will Real Sociedad show a little more urgency? Can the Blaugrana grab a third successive victory?
I alluded to it above; Barcelona are literally taking the whole squad to San Sebastian, which means recalls for Carles Puyol, Isaac Cuenca, Oier Olazábal and Neymar, although the latter has not received medical clearance to return to action. Indeed, given Martino’s quotes in today’s pre-match press conference it seems unlikely that the Brazilian will make his comeback tomorrow, but at least he has company in the form of Jonathan dos Santos, who continues to miss out with a knee injury.
Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal tomorrow looking for his sixth clean sheet of the season (in what will be just 14 appearances) after shutting out the Real Sociedad attack at the Camp Nou last Wednesday. While he was rarely tested throughout the game, Pinto made one huge save to deny Carlos Vela with the two teams deadlocked at 0-0; if Sociedad start well tomorrow, let’s hope Pinto is at his best and can help keep the opposition at arm’s length.
Dani Alves may return at right-back tomorrow, with Jordi Alba almost certain to start on the left after missing the match against Sevilla through suspension. Carles Puyol could return to captain the side, likely partnering Javier Mascherano in the heart of defense after the Argentine also sat out the match against Sevilla through suspension. Marc Bartra could continue in the heart of defense, provided Puyol isn’t ready to return to the starting line-up.
Likewise, Alex Song may start at pivote for the second time this week, although perhaps it is more likely that Sergio Busquets will return and then possibly sit out against Rayo Vallecano instead – if Martino really wants to rest the squad before the Manchester City match. Sergi Roberto should return to the midfield after being demoted to the bench for the first time in this Copa del Rey in the first-leg at the Camp Nou, and he should be joined in midfield by his usual partner, Cesc Fàbregas.
In attack, I expect to see Lionel Messi start again, with Cristian Tello and Pedro likely to provide the support on either flank. Messi could then be replaced in the second half by a midfielder like Ibrahim Afellay, probably around the hour mark if all goes to plan with Cesc Fàbregas then moving into attack. Heck, I’d love to see Isaac Cuenca given a run-out, but that doesn’t seem very likely at this moment in time.
Inigo Martinez is suspended after his outburst in the first-leg, while Dani Estrada and former Madridista Esteban Granero will continue to miss out through injury. Yes, their head coach Jagoba Arrasate is hoping for a historic night tomorrow, but really, not even a miracle would guarantee a turnaround for Real Sociedad. They need to improve their attitude, their urgency and their composure in front of goal if they want to stand a chance at an unlikely comeback, and based on their goalless draw against Levante at the weekend, Sociedad continue to struggle in the same areas.
Real Sociedad: WWWLLD
FC Barcelona 2-0 Real Sociedad – 11th February 2014 – Copa del Rey
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Roberto, Fàbregas; Pedro, Messi, Tello
Real Sociedad (4-2-3-1): Zubikarai; Zaldua, Mikel, Ansotegi, Angel; Elustondo, Zurutuza; Prieto, Pardo, Castro; Vela
I’m backing the Blaugrana to not only book their place in the final, but grab another win. I’m going for a 3-0 Barça win.
- Barca Blaugranes Q & A
- FC Barcelona News: 11 February 2014; Neymar Trains With the Team, Barça Look to Repair Relationship with Johan Cruyff
- FC Barcelona News: 10 February 2014; Barça Regain Top Spot in La Liga After Sevilla Win, Barça B Also Victorious
- La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-1 Sevilla FC: Highlights
- From The Mind of Xoel: D10S "Walks on Water" in Sevilla as Barça Regains Liga Lead