FC Barcelona will be looking to avoid catastrophe tomorrow, as that’s virtually the only thing that could deter them from reaching the Copa del Rey Round of 16 after their 4-1 first-leg victory over third-tier FC Cartagena just over a week ago. The Murcian minnows took the lead on that night, but were soon overwhelmed by the Blaugrana attack, who secured an emphatic victory courtesy of goals from Pedro Rodriguez (2), Cesc Fàbregas and late substitute Jean-Marie Dongou.
Despite his debut goal, there is no room in the Barça squad for the young goal-machine affectionately nicknamed "Dongol"; in fact, there is not a single member of the B team squad in tomorrow’s team.
Gerardo Martino may be criticised for that decision, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter. The starters – regardless of who he picks – are professionals. In other words, they will know to conserve energy where possible. And even if they don’t, the winter break is just a few short days away.
For some members of the squad, this will be a golden opportunity to try something new or something extravagant to catch the eye of their Argentine coach, and for others, this will be a chance to regain confidence against lesser opposition. It may not be the most important match of the season, but it still promises to be an entertaining encounter.
Once the formalities have been taken care of, Barcelona will be able to look ahead to the Round of 16, where a potential clash with Getafe or Girona awaits. The former are of course a familiar face from La Liga, while a pairing with the latter would make for an interesting local derby. Despite the relative size of Catalunya to some of the other autonomous regions in Spain, we’ve learnt that derbies are a rare occurrence – and as such, I’ll be rooting for Girona to spring an upset tomorrow evening.
Jose Manuel Pinto will likely start in goal tomorrow, although he does face competition from Oier Olazábal, who is yet to see a minute of gametime this season. With the tie all but secured, Martino could throw Oier into the action – but what’s the point? Cartagena may mount an attack or two, though for the most part it’s going to resemble a training game of attack versus defense – and for those unfamiliar with the training ground game, the attacking team rarely has a goalkeeper.
A Look Ahead to Manchester City
FC Barcelona were drawn against Manchester City by ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player Luis Figo in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Monday morning and Manuel Pellegrini's men are likely to be tough opponents.
In defense, I’m somewhat surprised not to see Patric’s name in the squad. That’s not to say that I think he’s the "next Dani Alves", instead it’s more of a surprise that Martino isn’t going to be resting one of his regulars. Adriano is injury-prone, Martin Montoya has played a lot of games recently and Jordi Alba is another that has just returned from a lengthy absence. Patric could have eased the burden, although I can hardly complain about the prospect of seeing Montoya and Alba again.
In the centre of defense, I expect to see Carles Puyol captain the side – partnered by Javier Mascherano, who was rested for Saturday’s narrow win over Villarreal CF. There have been some rumours surrounding Puyol’s future past this season, quickly dismissed by Martino who insisted that the club captain isn’t planning an impromptu retirement anytime soon.
Sergio Busquets has been given the day off, meaning that Alex Song will anchor the midfield with Sergi Roberto and Cesc Fàbregas likely to join the Cameroonian in the middle. Andrés Iniesta has also made the squad (Xavi on the other hand has not), although one suspects that Iniesta will start on the bench, likely replacing Fàbregas in the second-half as Martino keeps one eye on the weekend’s clash with Getafe.
Moving swiftly onto the attack, the smart money is on Pedro and Cristian Tello to start on either wing, with the in-form Neymar leading the triumvirate from a withdrawn centre-forward role. The Brazilian scored a brace at the weekend to grab his fourth and fifth goals of the week, but got booked in the process, therefore suspending him for the match against Getafe. As such, there is no need to rest him – and definitely no need for his presence to keep Tello out of the side either.
I already feel bad for Cartagena.
In fact, I defy anyone not to feel the slightest shred of sympathy for tomorrow’s visitors. Since going ahead against the La Liga leaders, it’s all gone downhill for Cartagena – and fast. First, Barcelona predictably struck back with four goals of their own, and then the side slumped to two successive draws, a string of results that has seen them slip down the table into fourth place. The most recent of those two draws was at home to mid-table Algeciras, who finished the game with nine men.
In other words, Cartagena’s time atop cloud nine was very brief indeed. The only good news is that Fernando is still amongst the goals, although that’s likely to be small consolation tomorrow if the Blaugrana do run riot as expected.
FC Cartagena 1-4 FC Barcelona – 6th December 2013 – Copa del Rey
Two goals in each half were enough for Barcelona to cancel out Fernando’s shock opener and secure a comfortable margin of victory at the Estadio Cartagonova.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano; Song, Roberto, Fàbregas; Pedro, Neymar, Tello
Even with a squad consisting mainly of B team players I would have predicted a healthy win for the hosts. But with this squad, well, the sky is the limit. It really will be a case of how many they want to score, and whether they can keep their concentration at the back for the full 90 minutes. With that in mind, I’m going to pluck a Manita scoreline out of thin air.
- FC Barcelona News: 16 December 2013; Xavi, Pique and Busquets Rested Against Cartagena, Barça Set New Record
- A Look Ahead to Manchester City
- UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona Drawn with Manchester City in Round of 16
- UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Draw: Live Thread
- FC Barcelona News: 15 December 2013; Barça Earn Hard Fought Win Against Villarreal, Xavi Out of Copa del Rey Game