Continuing their stretch of games away from the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona will travel to the autonomous region of Murcia to take on Segunda División B side FC Cartagena. The game will be played at the Cartagonova stadium, but several Barça players will be having a felling of Déjà vu, as the Estadio Municipal Cartagonova, which is the grounds full name, is identical to the Mini Estadi, used by the Barcelona B team.
The match will serve as the start for Barcelona's Copa del Rey campaign, but Cartagena have already eliminated three opponents to reach this stage of the competition. Their journey started with one goal victories over fellow third division sides CD Guadalajara and SD Huesca, and continued with a comfortable win over another Segunda B team, CD Tudelano.
Considering Barcelona's last two matches there probably couldn't have been a better time to face a team from the Segunda División B. No disrespect to Cartagena, but this is a team that lost both league games to an Eusebio led Barcelona B team by the score of 4-0 just two years ago.
But despite the current two-game losing streak Barcelona won't face the minnows with their first team. Well, how could they considering all the players currently on the sidelines due to injuries. Joining Lionel Messi and Victor Valdes on that list are now Andres Iniesta and Xavi, but they are not traveling with the team mainly out of precaution. Gerard Pique will also not be making the trip as he receives some rest.
But there also some positive injury news as Carles Puyol and Jordi Alba have been given the medical green light and could both start in Cartagena as it figures to be a relatively quiet game for the defense. Traveling with the team are also youngsters Adama Traore and Jean Marie Dongou at least one of which should get a start as Neymar has played an awful lot of minutes lately and has been under plenty of pressure with Messi out of action.
Judging by Gerardo Martino's comments from a few weeks back when he said something along the lines of that everybody in the first team will get to play this season I expect Oier Olazabal to play his first minutes of the season. Facing a team that is scoring about 1.6 goals per game against third division opponents whoever mans the Barcelona net could be in for a relatively stress-free game.
But the match-up to watch in this game will be how Barcelona's recently toothless attack, no goals in the last two matches, handles Cartagena's stingy defense. Allowing less than a goal per game, the defense, led by Carlos Moreno and Jaime Astraín, will face their toughest test on Friday. Even if Neymar is left on the bench, as he should be, there will still be plenty of offensive talent, and probably a lot of frustration after two losses, coming against the Cartagena net.
One player that could also use some time off, but probably will be forced to start due to the lack of midfielders is Cesc Fabregas. Though there is the possibility of Alex Song starting in the center of the of the pitch with Sergio Busquets starting at defensive midfielder, I do believe that Cesc will be called upon from the first minute, hopefully alongside Sergi Roberto.
Tomorrow's hosts are currently enjoying a successful 2013-14 Segunda División B campaign. After being relegated from the Segunda División in 2012, Cartagena are currently occupying third place in Group 4, and are easily on pace for a play-off spot that could once again see the club progress to the Segunda.
FC Barcelona: WWWLL
FC Cartagena: WDWLW
FC Barcelona 4-0 FC Cartagena - 1 February 1989 - Copa del Rey
The Round of 32 between the two sides in 1989 was not only their last meeting, but it was also the first time the two teams met. Barcelona won the tie in comfortable fashion, winning the first leg by the score of 3-0 with goals from Ernesto Valverde, Guillermo Amor and Julio Salinas. Barça finished off the match-up in emphatic fashion at home with two goals from both Amor and Salinas.
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Oier Olazabal; Martin Montoya, Carles Puyol, Marc Bartra, Jordi Alba; Alex Song, Sergi Roberto, Cesc Fabregas; Adama Traore, Jean Marie Dongou, Pedro
FC Cartagena (4-3-3): Limones; Dani Ruiz, Carlos Moreno, Jaime Astraín, Zudo; Mariano Sánchez, Marcos Rodríguez, Antoñito; Antonio Megías, Fernando, Federico Ruiz
Barcelona won't field their even remotely strongest line-up for their Round of 32 Copa del Rey match-up with Cartagena, but that shouldn't stop the Catalans from recording a comfortable victory as the difference in talent is just too big. I would be very surprised if Barça didn't put this tie out of reach and make the second leg a mere formality. I'm going for a Barcelona 5-0 win as I am really missing the Manita times.