FC Barcelona are looking to finish a historic year on a high tomorrow as they play host to third division side Hospitalet in the second leg of their Copa del Rey encounter. Barcelona are without a host of key names with early leave granted to the South American and African contingents of the squad, although the rules ensure that the Blaugrana’s team sheet will still contain seven first team players.
In essence this means more playing time for the fringe players such as Jose Pinto and Andreu Fontas. Considering the slender aggregate lead there is a potential for a shock, but obviously the likelihood of that happening is very slim indeed. The Camp Nou will be next to empty, but those who remain will hardly allow the team to slip up at such an early stage.
Jose Pinto will start in goal and it appears as though he will keep his place as understudy for at least the next season. The eccentric Spaniard is widely expected to sign a new contract in the coming weeks although it might just be out of necessity from the club’s point of view as the B team is certainly lacking in the goalkeeper department.
Personally, I like seeing his dreadlocked frame on the bench, if only to deter the Real Madrid bunch from starting any fights! However, the club still need to search the market for a suitable understudy to Valdes. Esteban Andrada is certainly the name most often linked with the Catalans, and I am looking forward to seeing him possibly represent Argentina in the upcoming Olympic Games.
Back to the match tomorrow and the defense may well consist of mostly B team players. Martin Montoya was superb against BATE Borisov and I would opt for the Spaniard at right-back, especially with Alves and Adriano away on holiday. In the middle of the defense, expect to see Gerard Pique partnered by Andreu Fontas if only to give Carles Puyol a bit of a rest. The left-back slot is up for grabs given the holiday granted to Maxwell, Adriano and Eric Abidal. That means that either Pep is going to opt for a 3-4-3, or Marc Muniesa could get a shot on the left. Personally, I would go for the latter, but don’t be surprised if Pep goes for a 3-4-3 with Marc Bartra in place of Montoya.
Thankfully Seydou Keita is on holiday, so Sergio Busquets is the only real option for holding midfield and the team will function a whole lot better with Busquets in place. Backed up by Cesc Fabregas, the midfield will remain as strong as ever and Sergi Roberto looks set to take his place in the middle after his great performance against BATE. If he can match his exploits there, Pep will no doubt be impressed and he could be in line for more game time in the future.
Offensively, Barcelona are short of options as Alexis Sanchez is injured/on holiday, Lionel Messi is also on holiday and deservedly so, while David Villa is obviously injured. That means Pedro is set to start, likely on the right-wing, but everyone else will have to drafted in from other positions or the B team. Rafinha played well against BATE in the false no.9 position and I would love to see him reprise that role with his brother Thiago on the left-wing after he decimated the Santos defense in the same position on Sunday.
However, Cesc could equally start as the false no.9 with Thiago in midfield and arguably Gerard Deulofeu on the wing, or Rodri could play as a centre-forward meaning Rafinha drops to the bench; it is completely up for grabs. That being said, I expect Pep to start Cesc in the false no.9 role, meaning that either Deulofeu could start, or Andres Iniesta could be shifted to the left. Whatever the case, it will interesting to watch and a good way to end the year. With the past firmly behind us we get a chance to glimpse into the future of the club, I wonder what we will see...
Match Prediction: Barcelona to win 2-0 with Pedro and Thiago scoring the goals.