On Saturday night, Barcelona face the biggest game of their season.
Sure, I’ve said this a few times before, but this time, I really do mean it.
The Yellow Submarine are currently in 3rd position, and with players like Rossi, Nilmar and Cazorla at their disposal, they pose quite a threat to the Blaugrana’s 5 point gap at the top.
This game comes just before the resumption of the Champions League, and with Shaktar Donetsk likely to provide a stern test, it will be the first of two tough games in the space of a week.
El Madrigal is always a tough place to go, especially with their new-found success under Juan Carlos Garrido. We here at Barca Blaugranes have collaborated with new La Liga blog, Villarreal USA, and you can read the Q&A’s for Villarreal here, and the Q&A’s for Barcelona here.
Back to the game, FC Barcelona are facing somewhat of an injury crisis. Puyol remains absent, as does Abidal, but with Xavi suspended, the last thing Guardiola needs are further absentees. However, Bojan and Messi are likely to start, but with Pedro and Maxwell unavailable, there are less options than Pep would like.
With that in mind, I expect a line-up of Valdes in goal, with a back-four of Alves-Pique-Busquets-Adriano. I expect Busquets because of the game's gravitas. At this point it would be too much to ask from Fontas to play against some of the best attackers in World Fotball. Nilmar was great in the corresponding fixture at the Camp Nou, but hopefully recent troubles with injuries will slow him down significantly against Barca.
Ahead of them, the midfield could be a bit unfamiliar but expect Javier Mascherano, Seydou Keita and Andres Iniesta.
Fun fact: Keita has deputised 8 times for Xavi out of the 9 he has been unable to start this season.
Because of Xavi’s absence, the pressure will be on Andres Iniesta to perform, but as those who saw him for Spain will know, he is continuing his fantastic form, and the Ballon D’Or runner-up will no doubt be on the top of his game.
Unless you've been living under a rock, Messi was/is supposedly injured. He was diagnosed with "muscle overload" in his adductor muscle, and this stopped him from playing against Costa Rica. However, upon his return to the club, he is told that he is fine, but not "fine" enough to train. How does this work?
Anyway, he may not, but almost certainly will play today, so Costa Rica, like all good countries on the American continent, are preparing to sue the Argentinean Football Federation. Whatever.
Lionel Messi though, does remain a little off form, in relation to the high standards he set for himself. His recent (mini) drought has fuelled talks of burnout but it goes to show that he's always expected to perform exceptional. He will get back to scoring hat-tricks in no time, maybe tomorrow would be a good place to start…
Don't forget, if he does not score, record-breaking Spain international, David Villa is back! Villa may have been poor before the international break, but after breaking Raul’s record, one can only imagine the relief it has brought. Hopefully, that weight of his shoulders will give him a boost, and a few goals of course.
Personally, I hope Bojan starts alongside Villa and Messi, because of his recent form, but wouldn’t mind seeing Jeffren grabbing a start. Who am I kidding, Pep doesn’t trust the B team players (past or present!)
Our rivals supporters, our friends over at Villarreal USA have their own preview here, just in case you want a Villarreal perspective. El Madrigal will provide a fitting atmosphere for the first of the crunch games, and one where Barca should show why they are favorites to win La Liga.
Barca Blaugranes Prediction: 3-1 Barcelona with goals from Villa (2) and Messi. Rossi on target for Villarreal.