Hands up if you had heard of Hospitalet before this draw was made? For some unknown reason I can tell you the winner of the Maltese Cup in 2007 (Hibernians FC if you are interested) but even I had to do a quick search on Google about our opponents tomorrow evening. CE L’Hospitalet is a regional side from Cataluña and they currently play in the third group of the Second Division B, that’s a whole level below the B team!
Their manager Jordi Vinyals was a youth team player at FC Barcelona, but never got as far as the first team so tomorrow and indeed the return leg will be emotional moments for him.
Amongst his squad are a plethora of individuals discarded by the Blaugrana, most notably so Toni Velamazan who played under Johan Cruyff for a season and also featured in the 2000 Olympic Games.
Each coach will have to abide by a rule stating that each club has to field at least seven players from the first-team squad, even if the tie in question does involve a monumental mismatch. Pep Guardiola has 13 first-teamers at his disposal, and unluckily for Hospitalet, this includes the eight called up to the Spanish National Team.
Therefore, Jose Manuel Pinto will continue his role of Copa del Rey keeper, and just one day removed from his 36th birthday, one has to wonder when the eccentric Spaniard will hang up his gloves. A one-time winner of the Zamora trophy, he is one hell of a character, and we all know how much he hates Real Madrid. Prone to the odd mistake, he will be relishing a chance in the starting XI.
Ahead of him is likely to be Andreu Fontas at least if Pep trusts him to get the better of his part-time opponents. Alongside him could be Carles Puyol who was rested at the weekend, perhaps to captain the side in this match. Certainly it will not be the hardest match of his career, but Puyol will ensure that complacency does not set in while regaining match fitness for the coming of El Clasico.
Casting my mind back to pre-season it was Jonathan Dos Santos who filled in at right-back, and tomorrow he may be needed again. Adriano and Dani Alves are away on international duty so the Blaugrana are looking thin in that area, although Carles Puyol could equally fill in if required with Eric Abidal or Gerard Pique covering in central defense. On the left it should be Maxwell, and the Brazilian needs to put in a good showing if he wants to remain anywhere near the first team picture.
Seydou Keita may be forced to play in the holding role but I would put in a case for Xavi to start in the same position. Xavi is basically a refined version of Sergio Busquets and despite the opposition I would love to see him start. However, Keita should take that place and that is what I predict Pep will be asking of the Malian.
Central midfield options include Andres Iniesta, the aforementioned Xavi, Rafinha, Cesc Fabregas, Jonathan Dos Santos and Sergi Roberto. That is grim reading for any Hospitalet fan and means that Barcelona will not be short of creative influences. I would opt for Rafinha and Sergi Roberto and its annoying Thiago has an under-21 match otherwise he could have been paired with his brother in the middle of the park. The Alcantara brothers are two of La Masia’s brightest stars, and amazingly enough it’s Rafinha who has been tipped as the better of the two!
Considering the impact Thiago has had since his permanent promotion I cannot wait to see Rafinha play in the first team, and tomorrow is a perfect opportunity for him to showcase his potential. Scorer of six goals for the B team, he should find Hospitalet a generous starting point for his Barcelona career.
Then we get to the attack, and it’s even worse for Hospitalet. David Villa will be motivated to end his poor run of form and alongside him should be Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Deulofeu. Fabregas needs no introduction, while Deulofeu is regarded as the next Lionel Messi. In reserve Barcelona have Cristian Tello meaning pace in abundance for any Blaugrana strike-force.
In truth, it should be a routine 90 minutes for FC Barcelona, but Pep Guardiola will have to remind the players that complacency is a killer. Last season’s match with Ceuta proved that he can motivate regardless of opposition but this is a whole different ball-game. Hospitalet will be raring to go come kick-off, and for their players is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to score against Barcelona.
That being said, Guardiola will be looking for a result after the disappointment of Sunday, and Hospitalet might be on the end of a real beating.
Match Prediction: Barcelona by at least 5 goals, hopefully with Villa scoring and Fontas staying mistake-free.