After the much-publicised events of Wednesday, that saw Barcelona win 2-0, but the main talking points came from Pepe's sending off, and the reaction to this. It has seen Barcelona call an extra-ordinary board meeting, only to decide that Mourinho should be reported to UEFA.
Of course, no-one is happy with the decisions made by Wolfgang Stark, but make no mistake this was a high pressure situation, and all mistakes were only found through slo-mo replays. Correct me if I'm wrong, but referees have no access to hindsight or slo-mo replays during the game.
Anyway, back to the task at hand, and on Saturday our beloved (or hated depending on who you support) Barcelona will take to the field in San Sebastian at the Estadio Anoeta.
So, to get you prepared for the game, here's the views of the Barca Blaugranes team. (Adi-Oula Sebastian, Bostjan Cernensek, Shehryar Khan, Gabriel Roberts and I)
Last time these two sides met, Barcelona ran out easy 5-0 winners. With their new found confidence after Wednesday, what’s your prediction for the game?
Adi-Oula Sebastian: I think, and hope, that Carles Puyol will be rested alongside Dani Alves, Xavi and Lionel Messi. Carles Puyol is the backbone of Barca’s defense and he makes Gerard Pique a better player. Wednesday night is a proof of just that.
Thiago can deputize for Xavi whereas there’s no real back-up option for Dani Alves. Lionel Messi should be rested in favor of Ibrahim Afellay which would free-up David Villa to play as a center-forward.
Taking into account for replacements I would consider a 2-0 a success across the board, especially if Pep is to make more than three changes.
Bostjan Cernensek: Guardiola knows his players age gassed and in need of rest and the injuries that are piling up certainly don't help. Afellay, Jeffren, Thiago, even Milito, will probably be getting a start against the tricky Real Sociedad.
The Basques are difficult to play at home, but even without several starters Blaugrana should overcome Sociedad. Barcelona win by the score of 2-1.
Arron Duckling: Well, Wednesday was a huge night for FC Barcelona, but this game is equally as important, if nowhere near as difficult. That being said, this game represents a challenge of a different sort for the Blaugrana, and Sociedad are a good team, and will probably provide a much sterner test for our backline than Los Merengues did.
In Xabi Prieto they have a tricky winger who is capable of delivering dangerous crosses into the box. This could be a concern, but I think Guardiola will defend this by calling up Fontas to partner Milito, whose physicality could come in handy for once. I would like to see Montoya given a start too, even if it is on the left, and Thiago should start too. Up front, Afellay will surely play, and Jeffren impressed me last week.
I would also love for 17 year-old Gerard Deulofeu to start, but he is probably only there for the experience. So long as Messi doesn’t play, I will be glad. My prediction is 2-1 Barcelona.
Gabriel Roberts: I do think that Wednesday's match will give Barcelona a boost. They're playing away from home though, so I'll say Barcelona wins 1-3. Messi will be rested, Iniesta of course will be out, but otherwise Pep will throw out the big guns. He wants this win badly.
Shehryar Khan: Its important that Barcelona rest a few players especially given that the last round of the Clasico is around the corner, I'm hoping that Afellay starts, and I'd like to see a bit more of Sergio Roberto. I don't think Barcelona would simply walk over Real Sociedad but I'm still thinking we'd score three, 1-3 maybe.
Do you think a win will all but secure the league title?
SK: It sure will if it isn't already in the bag. Pep should also start taking a look at other players he got and let’s just hope Fontas too gets a start.
AOS: The Champions League semi’s once again rocked the Madrid football world to its core. Who knows, maybe they will mount a title-challenge after all. Though it is not impossible to overcome a two-goal deficit it is still an incredible challenge whereas the La Liga title is still up for grabs.
GR: Yes, another win and the title is pretty well wrapped up. We've been saying it's over for quite some time now, but it's never really over 'til it's over.
AD: Yes. Barcelona have a great opportunity to crush Madrid’s hopes once and for all in the next 3-5 days. Why would they relent now?
BC: I would say the title is already all but secure, but another win would obviously push Barcelona even closer to the title. It is still too early to celebrate, but the chances of doing so are getting bigger by every passing day of football.
Should Afellay start ahead of either Pedro or Villa next Tuesday?
BC: Considering the congested fixture list I expect Ibrahim to start on Saturday. If Messi's micro-tear won't heal by Tuesday Afellay will start for the second game in a row, but if Messi will be ready by then the Dutchman will probably start on the bench. Villa has been actually playing better lately so he won't replace him and Pep likes Pedro too much to bench him.
Afellay deserves more playing time, but I don't see that happening in the semi-final of the Champions League. However, he should get more chances in La Liga.
SK: He sure should. Great speed, great passer, the only thing he's lacking at the moment in confidence and some time on the pitch would do him loads of good.
AOS: I would prefer Afellay over David Villa, not because Pedro is in better shape than El Guaje but as it has been evidenced, pace and dribbling skills are none of the attributes of Villa. With Lionel Messi hogging the false no. 9 position it’ll be up to Pedro and Afellay to create space and chances from the flanks. That said, the latter absolutely skinned Marcelo in the built-up to Messi’s goal. More of that, please.
GR: I think Afellay is entirely deserving of all the playing time he receives, but I'd still start Pedro and Villa against Madrid. Those guys have earned their starting gigs, and although they haven't been quite up to par lately, they're still the best options up top.
AD: Not yet. He is a great player, but at the Camp Nou, and given the fact Madrid must surely chase the game, perhaps a repeat of November is on the cards? Anyway, he is a much better impact player than Villa or Pedro could wish to be.
Who is your surprise player of the season? (Not Xavi, Iniesta or Messi)
AOS: Though he has been out of action for quite a while I would say Eric Abidal, without the slightest hesitation. The Frenchman was imperious prior to his surgery and was far and away Barca’s best defender all-season. With Gerard Pique’s head in Waka Waka land, Carles Puyol sidelined for large spells of the season, Abidaltasar stepped it up, whether in his customary left-back role or as a makeshift center-back, he reigned supreme.
GR: Ibrahim Afellay. To work your way into the rotation as a substitute is a nearly impossible task on this squad, especially in attack where injuries haven't been much of a factor. Afellay has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and was decisive against Madrid. Barcelona has a tendency to sign really good players, but without consistent minutes these talents flounder and are shipped off the next summer. Afellay has earned the right to stay on by making.
BC: Javier Mascherano. He had a rough time at the start of the season, but after the growing pains he has done everything that was asked of him. He never complained about the lack of playing time (early on) and now he has been playing better than anybody hoped for, at center-half no less. El Jefecito has been a brilliant addition.
SK: Surprise player, well we've got almost the same side we had last season don't we. Let’s see, I think Afellay has impressed in short spells, and Pique and Busquets have really impressed me this season, great composure, still hoping to see a lot more of the upcoming lot of Barcelona players before the season ends.
AD: Because I don’t want to choose the same player as any of the others, I say Victor Valdes. He saved us from exit versus Arsenal, not to mention plenty of points along the course of the season. Valdes has managed to improve markedly year on year, and the only shame is that he will never be given the opportunity to play regularly for Spain. I guess he will have to count his several Champions League and La Liga medals as consolation! ;)
Join us tomorrow for our Live Game Thread!
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