FC Barcelona travel west to Valladolid tomorrow where they will look to finish 2012 with a win in their first match under interim coach Jordi Roura. The Blaugrana were dealt a huge blow this week, as news emerged that Tito Vilanova had suffered a recurrence of a tumour that had been removed last year. It’s tragic news, but Tito’s surgery went well and therefore the Barca manager could be back by February, provided all goes to plan. In the mean time, Jordi Roura will lead the team with Aureli Altimira set to serve as Roura’s assistant. Altimira was a former player with the B team, and has been working with the club as a fitness coach since retiring as a player back in 2001.
Jordi Roura has a couple of concerns headed into tomorrow’s match as both Adriano Correia and Alex Song are set to miss out through injury. Adriano scored a fantastic goal last weekend against Atletico Madrid, and he will be sorely missed on the right-hand side of the defense, although we probably can’t say the same of Alex Song who has struggled to establish himself since his move from Arsenal this past summer. However, Andrés Iniesta has recovered from a knock to return to full training and could start as a result. Eric Abidal also returned to training this week, but the inspirational Frenchman is not expected to return to action in the immediate future.
In goal, Victor Valdés will start looking for his first (and only) La Liga clean sheet of December, and he can expect to receive support from a defense that is likely to include a resurgent Gerard Piqué. The Catalan admitted that he was far from his best throughout last season, but Geri has been excellent under Tito Vilanova and put in a stellar performance last weekend against Atletico Madrid. However, who will start alongside Piqué in the heart of defense?
Javier Mascherano was arguably Barcelona’s best centre-half last season and hasn’t seen an awful lot of game-time recently – thanks to Carles Puyol’s return to fitness. With El Jefecito reclaim his place in the starting XI or will he have to continue to play second fiddle to our legendary captain? Either way, I fancy our chances at a rare clean sheet. At full-back, Dani Alves should replace Adriano on the right, while Jordi Alba is likely to keep his place on the left.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets will start at pivote – barring illness or a late injury – and he is likely to be joined in the centre of the field by Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. There were doubts over Iniesta’s fitness as the Spaniard battled with a slight knock to his thigh, but Andrés appears to have recovered sufficiently to join the squad for tomorrow’s match. However, on the off-chance that Iniesta is not risked from the start, it would be nice to see Thiago Alcântara given a chance to shine with the likes of Lionel Messi and Xavi in support.
Offensively, Lionel Messi will start in the final match of what has been a productive year both for club and country. Heading into the match with 25 league goals to his name, it’s likely that Messi will add to his tally, but just how many will he score? Leo has scored braces in six consecutive La Liga matches – which is almost certainly another record – and has 22 goals in his last 14 matches in all competitions. At this point, we almost expect Messi to notch at least once in every single match, if not twice, so does it really matter if Alexis Sánchez and Pedro are struggling for form? Of course, it would be great if they could go on a nice run and get a few goals between them, but it’s hardly the end of the world either. Speaking of the two, Sánchez and Pedro are expected to start tomorrow, although they may face competition from David Villa – who has been linked with a move away from the Camp Nou.
Valladolid coach Miroslav Djukic acknowledged the difficult task ahead in his pre-match press conference, but I’m sure he will be quietly confident of his side’s chances ahead of tomorrow’s clash. Valladolid took Real Madrid to the limit just two weeks ago after all, and have been in impressive form at home thus far this season. Djukic is set to take on the league leaders without German midfielder Patrick Ebert who continues to miss out through an injury sustained during that narrow defeat to Los Blancos. However, veteran holding midfielder Alvaro Rubio has recovered from a muscle injury to make the squad.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Real Valladolid – 16 May 2010 – La Liga
A brace from Lionel Messi secured all three points on the final day of the 2009/10 season, as a Blaugrana side featuring the likes of Bojan, Seydou Keita and Yaya Toure ran out comfortable winners at the Camp Nou in what turned out to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s final competitive appearance for the club.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa
Valladolid: (4-5-1): Hernández; Rukavina, Valiente, Sereno, Balenziaga; Rubio, Gonzalez, Perez, Bueno, Ramos; Manucho
Valladolid are by no means a pushover, but the Blaugrana are in excellent form and should have too much quality to not run out winners. I’m going for a comfortable 3-0 win.