Who said that La Liga was the only title left to win this season? FC Barcelona square off against Segunda Division Girona CF in the semi-finals of the 2014 Copa Catalunya. With a penalty shoot-out win against RCD Espanyol, Tito Vilanova’s side lifted the trophy for the seventh time in the club’s history and Gerardo Martino will be hoping to mastermind a similar victory to finish this campaign on a high note.
Unlike last season, the squad for the Copa Catalunya will be made up of B team players, with one notable exception as Isaac Cuenca looks set to return from a lengthy injury lay-off to pull on the Blaugrana jersey for what may be one of the final times. In fact, I’m not even sure if Gerardo Martino will be on the touchline for tomorrow’s match – it may well be Eusebio Sacristan, our "much-loved" B team coach. Certainly, Eusebio has the most experience against Girona – he has led the B team to a memorable double over their Catalan rivals this season.
And let’s face the facts: Martino has more important matches to prepare for.
The headline news surrounded Isaac Cuenca’s return – can you believe that the last time he pulled on a Blaugrana shirt, it was back in April 2012 as he started Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League semi-final second-leg against Chelsea FC under the guidance of Pep Guardiola? That seems like an eternity ago – it will be great to see Cuenca back on the field, hopefully entering the final stages of his recovery.
That appearance should tell you all you need to know about Cuenca: he’s incredibly talented, but thus far his career has been blighted by injury. He deserves a break and this opportunity should do him the world of good.
Aside from Cuenca, the squad is formed of a bunch of B teamers, with a couple of the UEFA Youth League winning Juvenil A squad thrown in for good measure. So who is going to start I hear you ask?
In goal, it’s likely that Adrian Ortola will get the nod ahead of Miguel Bañuz and given the keeper situation at Barça, would it be an overstatement to say that there is a potential place in the first team up for grabs? It almost certainly would, but stranger things have happened. I’m sure Ortola wasn’t pried from Villarreal CF to warm the bench at Barça B ad infinitum – while Miguel Bañuz was once tipped to have a bright future in the game.
Unfortunately, Bañuz is only the "number 1" at Barça B by name only – he featured a little in the 2012/13 season, but conceded seven goals in just 193 minutes of action. Admittedly, the defense share a lot of the blame, but it does suggest why he isn’t playing for Barça B.
Patric will start at right-back, although he will face competition from Elohor Godswill, the talented Nigerian full-back who impressed during the Juvenil A team’s UEFA Youth League winning campaign. With four goals throughout the competition, Godswill was one of the side’s top scorers and while Barça possess a lot of talent at full-back, he is tipped to be a future first teamer at the club – probably more than we can expect of Patric. And that’s going to be a recurring theme for Barcelona’s team selection tomorrow: experience against youth.
Thankfully, the centre of defense picks itself – primarily because I only count two natural centre-backs in the squad. Typical Barcelona eh? Franck Bagnack and Roger Riera – despite his promotion to the B team, Bagnack is actually the younger of the two as he hasn’t allowed his age to become a hindrance in his search for experience. Bagnack featured heavily during pre-season under Martino, but has sometimes struggled to hold down his starting role for the B team, arguably benefitting more from Edgar Ie’s injury troubles than from his pre-season with the first team.
Maybe I would have liked to see Rodrigo Tarin given a place in the squad at least, but at the tender age of 17, there will be plenty more opportunities for us to assess his talent.
At left-back, I probably would have given an arm or a leg to see Alejandro Grimaldo’s name on that squad list, but alas, we’ll have to make do with Lucas Gafarot instead – again, there’s no room for any other defenders, because we’re Barcelona after all.
Instead, the squad is packed with midfielders and wingers. Sound familiar?
I’d prefer for Sergi Samper to start at pivote tomorrow, but who knows what will happen? If it’s Eusebio in charge, we might well see Ilie instead. Or we might see Samper in a "Xavi role". Or we might see something else entirely – whoever takes charge will certainly have options. Javi Espinosa, David Babunski, Denis Suarez, Wilfrid Kaptoum and the aforementioned Ilie and Samper – my gut is telling me to expect Ilie, Espinosa and Samper, but Denis Suarez could easily displace any of the trio. The good news is we’re Barcelona, so the midfield is the least of our concerns.
Then we get to the attack: oh boy, what a treat. As if the prospect of seeing Isaac Cuenca back in action isn’t enough, we will also get the chance to see Jean-Marie Dongou again – oh, and Munir El Haddadi might feature as well.
If you don’t know who Munir is, well, for shame. He was the leading light in Barcelona’s charge to the UEFA Youth League title, where he infamously scored from the halfway line.
In open play.
He also scored the winner the last time that Barça B squared off against Girona, starting his first match for the B team last weekend against Sabadell. While we couldn’t get the win, Munir has an incredible future ahead of him at the club – it’d be great to see a glimpse or two of his potential tomorrow.
Likewise, Adama Traore has a chance to shine and Dani Nieto is also around – if necessary.
Our hosts held Real Madrid Castilla to a draw at the weekend, moving one point closer to safety, and perhaps just as importantly, keeping Castilla in the drop zone too. With their Segunda status on the line, Girona have more important things to worry about than the Copa Catalunya, so expect a second-string line-up from them tomorrow.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ortola; Patric, Riera, Bagnack, Lucas; Samper, Denis, Espinosa; Cuenca!, Dongou, Munir
No "Predict the Score" tomorrow folks, so leave your predictions below. I’m going for a 3-1 Barça win.
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