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Barcelona Must Avoid Osasuna Trap Before El Clasico vs. Real Madrid

With Real Madrid due on Wednesday, Barca must first avoid a misstep on Sunday in La Liga. With the Catalans in first place and Osasuna in the relegation zone, a straightforward win is expected. But Barcelona will have to rotate and may be in for a surprise - with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta among the players that may be rested in some capacity.

David Ramos

The win over Malaga guaranteed another match against Real Madrid, with all the nerves, media hype, pageantry, and excitement that comes with El Clasico.

But FC Barcelona can't be thinking of that too much right now. Not yet.

Last season, Barcelona destroyed CA Osasuna 8-0 in the first round. In the second round, Barcelona were beaten 3-2 in Pamplona. No one is sure quite to expect for the match tomorrow.

The lead in La Liga is 8 points right now, comfortably above second-place Atletico Madrid, but not exactly in the clear yet. With a slip-up last week against Real Sociedad, Barca saw how quickly the pack can close in to cut the distance.

Barcelona struggled in the match-up against Osasuna this season, falling behind until a Lionel Messi brace in the last 15 minutes secured the three points at El Sadar. However, the upcoming match is at the Camp Nou, where the raucous crowd will keep Barca's spirits up and the familiar pitch will benefit their slick passing game..

The key question for Los Cules is who to rest with the demanding fixture coming up, followed by a tough trip away to Valencia. Messi was subbed off as a precaution after he felt some discomfort in the cup match against Malaga. He trained normally since, but there is no need to rush him back.

Andres Iniesta has played the last four matches spanning eleven days, and seems a prime candidate to take a breather. Javier Mascherano has been a part of the past five games, though one was an unplanned substitute appearance when Gerard Pique was sent off against Sociedad.

Cesc Fabregas and Dani Alves have played four of the past 5 matches in a two-week period and might be due a rest as well. Finally, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez, and Jordi Alba played three of the four matches, including the last two. (Pique did as well, but he's suspended for the match anyway.) They are less in urgent need of taking the day off, but it's another option the manager must think about.

Championships can be won or lost on effective squad rotation which maximizes the performances of squad players. Barcelona's first-leg draw with Malaga in the Copa del Rey, which ended 2-2, was not much of a result. On the other hand, many players were spared the extra burden on their legs.

The performances of rotation options like Alex Song, Thiago Alcantara, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Martin Montoya will go a long way to determining the trophy haul. Some of those faces will need to contribute if Barca is to keep the league lead and take a favorable result out of the first leg Copa del Rey Clasico.

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