This Saturday sees Barcelona host Zaragoza in another pivotal game for the champions. After a hard fought win against Valencia in midweek the club received mixed news on the injury front.
Inspirational captain Carles Puyol returned to training and Xavi played against Valencia, but coach Pep Guardiola has herniated a disc in his spine.
Bostjan wrote a great piece describing what that is and his course of treatment, which bar a miracle, will rule him out of Saturday's game at the Camp Nou. Of course we all wish him a speedy recovery, and we all want Pep to be barking orders from the touchline on Tuesday's vital game against Arsenal.
So with Pep out, it will be long time assistant Tito Villanova who is to take charge tomorrow. Whether Tito will pick the team, I don't know, but I expect players to be rested with Tuesday in mind.
Pinto will continue in goal but the defence could be at full strength for the first time in what seems like an age. Personally, I think it would be beneficial to allow Puyol some game time before Arsenal and bearing his suspension in mind, Pique will play the full 90 minutes. Alves is likely to play at right back, but I think Abidal will be rested and Maxwell is first in line to replace him despite Adriano's performance in midweek.
The midfield could see starts for Afellay or Keita as Xavi will probably be rested given his recent return from injury. Busquets has been played at centre half recently but with Puyol almost certain to play there versus Arsenal, and his game changing position move to the usual anchor of the trio; he will be deployed there if he plays.
Upfront Pedro is surely going to be started alongside the inaugural Barca Blaugranes Man of the Match, according to our fans, Lionel Messi. Villa could finish the MVP trio but I feel Bojan will be given the start.
Our opponents Zaragoza are no easy side though. All my talk of resting players is all well and good, but Zaragoza will not just roll over. Their talismanic Ikechukwu Uche scored in midweek in his first start of the season, so confidence will be at a high. Currently at 15th they are in danger of dropping into the huge fight for survival and every point will be vital to them.
Expect resolute defending and hard work aplenty from our visitors, but a display that ultimately should not be enough to faze the Blaugrana who will want to finish it early and focus on Arsenal.
And given last years displays versus Zaragoza and Arsenal, expect Messi to be looking forward to this week.
Lionel Messi Hat-Trick vs Zaragoza *HD 720p* (21.03.2010) (via 21Zlatan21)
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