FC Barcelona return to league action tomorrow evening when they travel to the Riazor to face the newly-promoted Deportivo La Coruna. A familiar name to fans of Spanish football, Depor won the first La Liga title of the new millennium and were a real force for the first-half of the decade, reaching their peak in 2004 when they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, but unfortunately Depor couldn’t reach those heady heights again. After a number of seasons languishing in mid-table, Deportivo slumped to a surprise 18th place finish in 2011 which consigned them to a season in the Segunda, but they won promotion at the first-time of asking. However, it’s not all rosy in north-west Spain: with six points from their opening seven matches it’s pretty clear that "SuperDepor" are no more.
With Atletico not in action until Sunday evening, the Blaugrana have an opportunity to go three points clear at the top of the table, and given the importance we have placed on the eight point lead over Real Madrid prior to the Clasico, it’s only fair that we now turn our attention to second-place Atleti. Will the FIFA virus strike for the first time in Tito Vilanova’s short reign allowing Falcao and co the chance to go top, or will we see a performance similar to the match against Getafe, in which a weakened Barca side waltzed through what many perceived to be a potential banana-skin fixture?
Injuries and injuries to defenders in particular appear to be the latest fad in Spanish football; a trend that was obviously started by Barcelona. Sure, many teams have tried to copy the Blaugrana but they just cannot seem to grasp the concept. Currently the press are reflecting on an injury crisis in the capital as Real Madrid are without any full-backs, but I for one would kill to have the problem that Jose Mourinho has. Just look at the Barcelona squad for tomorrow’s match – there is no Gerard Piqué; Carles Puyol is still sidelined, Dani Alves was injured in the Clasico, while Marc Muniesa and Eric Abidal are both long-term absentees. And that’s just the defense – yet there’s a huge commotion over Real Madrid’s injury crisis? Regardless, here’s the team news ahead of tomorrow’s much-anticipated clash.
Victor Valdés will start in goal looking for his second consecutive clean sheet away from home, although don’t let Deportivo’s poor league position fool you, Depor have been excellent in front of goal this season. With a makeshift backline in front of him, Valdés will have to be on top form to deny tomorrow’s hosts.
Moving onto the defense, it’s more about who cannot start rather than who will start. Dani Alves is injured, so Martin Montoya will start at right-back with Jonathan Dos Santos named in the squad, presumably as a back-up. Alex Song and Javier Mascherano should both start at centre-half, although neither is likely to be at 100% after a hectic international break – particularly Mascherano. If there are rumours that Lionel Messi may not start tomorrow due to fatigue, then surely Mascherano is in a similar situation? That could open the door to a first start under Tito Vilanova for Marc Bartra, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. At left-back, Tito has a tough choice: Adriano or Jordi Alba? Alba managed to get on the score-sheet for Spain last week and therefore is probably the favourite to start tomorrow, but Adriano has been in great form so far this season. Maybe the Brazilian will find himself back in a central defensive role with Piqué still sidelined?
Sergio Busquets will start at pivote with little in the way of competition – and it’s worth noting that while JDS made the squad, Busquets is still suspended for Tuesday’s match so there is no need to leave him out of tomorrow’s starting XI. Moving forward, Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández will be fighting it out for the two other midfield berths –and personally, I would go for Cesc and Iniesta.
Then we get to the attack, and as I noted earlier, there are reports that Lionel Messi will have to settle for a place on the bench. Whether or not Tito will leave Leo out of the starting XI remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a possibility. David Villa could be in line for a rare start although I would suggest that Cristian Tello is more likely to start alongside Pedro with El Guaje and Alexis Sanchez left on the bench with a view to starting on Tuesday. Despite the rumours suggesting otherwise, I personally think that Messi will start tomorrow. After all, who else will start at centre-forward if not for Messi? Cesc is the obvious option, but with little in the way of midfield back-up that would leave us short in the middle of the park, unless Tito trusts JDS. Whatever the case, with or without Messi, Barcelona should be good enough to secure the three points tomorrow.
Usually this is the point of the preview where I look at the squad for our opposition and make an educated guess about their starting XI based on previous matches. However, because Deportivo have an excellent English language website, we now know exactly what Jose Luis Oltra is thinking ahead of tomorrow’s match:
"For the game Oltra has stated that he has a ‘plan’, but the plan doesn’t involve to make too many changes; actually the list of picked players is the same one that travelled to Vallecas. What the plan involves is to put more pressure at midfield and base the offensive game in the counterattack."
Clearly, this will not be news to Tito Vilanova’s side – it is the same tactic they face every week after all and for more news on Deportivo be sure to check out this preview from their official site.
FC Barcelona 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna – 15th May 2011 – La Liga
Having secured the league title a week earlier with a point against Levante, a second-string Barcelona side featuring Bojan and Jeffren was held to a draw by their relegation-threatened visitors.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Song, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Cesc, Tello
Deportivo (4-2-3-1): Aranzubia; Laure, Marchena, Ze Castro, Evaldo; Dominguez, Aguilar; Bruno Gama, Valeron, Pizzi; Riki
Even without a proper defense, I expect Barcelona to claim all three points, and I expect them to grab a few goals along the way. 3-1 Barca