With the 3-0 win over Racing Santander firmly in the past, FC Barcelona now turn their attentions to the UEFA Champions League and Viktoria Plzen in particular. The side hail from the Czech Republic and their home strip more than resembles the Barcelona counterpart, but that is likely to be where the comparisons end.
FC Barcelona have won three UEFA Champions League titles, including two in the last three seasons, whereas Plzen have only qualified for the Champions League proper on one occasion. Barcelona can claim 21 league titles, poor ol’ Plzen have just the one. It is a mismatch that much is for sure, but Guardiola as always is full of respect for the opponent.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, he said that he will "send out the team he feels is best suited to win the match", while Viktoria Plzen players joked about sending out two goalkeepers. The contrast between the two sides is startling, and to put it frankly, I expect nothing less than a comprehensive victory, and so will the Camp Nou crowd.
Viktoria Plzen are a recent success story in the world of football, they started by winning the Czech Cup in 2009/10, and since then, the only way has been up. Unfortunate to draw Besiktas in last season’s Europa League, they went out at the qualifying round, but this enabled them to concentrate on domestic matters and win the Gambrinus Liga (Czech League) last season. Due to the weakness of the Czech UEFA co-efficient, this only won them a place in the second round of the qualifiers.
However, they brushed aside Armenian side Pyunik Yerevan, before more difficult ties with Rosenborg and FC Copenhagen with whom FC Barcelona are familiar with. Seeing the game against Copenhagen was certainly an eye-opener. After the showing the Danes put up in last season’s competition where they reached the round of 16, they were dumped out in the play-off by a little team from Eastern Europe, and deservedly so.
Plzen were simply brilliant, and Martin Fillo’s goal was the icing on the cake.
That being said, my knowledge of the side is minimal, and to go on a two-legged tie is not the best way to go in terms of learning about your opponent. What I do know is that they play their Champions League matches in Prague and their manager is known for a spell as assistant at the Slovakia national team. Aside from that, it is easy to guess their style of play.
No matter their usual approach, Plzen will undoubtedly go for damage limitation, especially at the Camp Nou. Expect a 5-4-1 or some variation of that allowing the Czechs to sit back, attempt to absorb pressure and look for a chance to threaten on the counter-attack. The key to this match will be claiming an early goal; the longer it goes on without a goal, the better it will be for Viktoria Plzen.
So we know what Pep said in the press conference, but what does that mean? This is a team that has scored 14 goals in the last four games, and conceded none. It does not need tweaking, but considering the Sevilla match on Saturday, it could be an idea to rotate a few players.
Defensively, Barcelona are struggling with injuries, and this could mean that Guardiola opts for the 3-4-3. Carles Puyol is the only natural central defender, so is likely to start, and alongside him, I expect to see Javier Mascherano (whom Barca fans voted as the ideal replacement for Pique in a poll for AS) and Eric Abidal. Then again, I may prefer to see the Frenchman rested, and maybe Dani Alves could go another 90 minutes as a disciplined defender? After all, it seems more likely that I will play than Andreu Fontas...
Ahead of that, it must be time for Seydou Keita to start. One of Pep’s favourite players, and he hasn’t seen much game time in the past few weeks; it all fits nicely together for the Malian. Luckily, Sergio Busquets was rested at the weekend, and can play holding midfield, and I would love to see Thiago given free rein in the midfield alongside either Andres Iniesta or Xavi after his disciplined display against Racing.
In attack, the options are few and far between, but each one is world-class. David Villa should start on the left, Lionel Messi will be looking to decimate yet another opponent, and Pedro could do with a goal to get his confidence back. However, I have an incline that Adriano may be given a place on the wing to rest one of the triumvirate for Sevilla. Either way, Plzen are in for a long night.
FC Barcelona will be seeing a lot of the ball again tomorrow, and if the start of the season is anything to go by they are getting even better at utilising it fully. With figures routinely hitting 80%, Barca are maintaining a high level of chance creation, something that could not be applied to previous matches with the same figures of possession (Real Madrid last season). But that’s a story for another day.
Match Prediction: Barcelona to grab an early goal, say around the 15 minute mark, and to keep chipping away until they feel comfortable enough to conserve energy. Expect at least three or four goals in this one, and of course, Lionel Messi to be getting his share.