FC Barcelona take on newly-promoted Almeria tomorrow, as the Blaugrana seek to extend their 100% start to the latest La Liga campaign with a seventh successive win under the guidance of Argentine head coach, Gerardo Martino. Almeria on the other hand are yet to register a win since their return to the top flight and have shipped an incredible 15 goals. Only Rayo Vallecano (whom Barcelona easily defeated 4-0 last weekend) have conceded more goals; although paradoxically, Almeria also boast one of the league’s better attacks.
Despite sitting in 18th place, Almeria’s strike-force – led by former Barça B striker/flop Rodri – have hit the back of the net on ten separate occasions. That’s more than Valencia, Malaga or Real Sociedad. Will this prolific attack find a way to surprise their table-topping visitors tomorrow, or will Barça cruise to yet another straight-forward victory?
Cesc Fàbregas returns to the squad after sitting out the midweek win over Real Sociedad, but news of his return has been spoiled by the news of Javier Mascherano’s injury. The Argentine injured his hamstring in that 4-1 victory and is expected to miss the next few games at a minimum.
As a result, Marc Bartra should start his first match of the season alongside Gerard Piqué, who attracted criticism from the Madridista press for his latest tweets about their beloved club. Clearly, Piqué shouldn’t be expressing his own opinion, especially if it reinforces a rivalry between the country’s two biggest clubs...or maybe Ancelotti and company don’t like it when someone actually calls it like it is. The penalty kick against Elche was just the latest in a long line of favourable (and highly questionable) decisions awarded in Madrid’s favour.
Piqué’s right, it is laughable.
Pepe pulls over an Elche defender, wins a penalty – where is the logic? Does Pepe’s past reputation actually count for anything in this sport? Is the referee simply incompetent? Why isn’t someone asking these questions? After all, decisions like this don’t harm Barcelona, not at all; instead, they harm the reputation of the league – and I think someone should at least contemplate taking action.
Anyway, enough rambling – Dani Alves and Martin Montoya could start on either side of defense, allowing Adriano to rest ahead of Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League opener against Celtic this upcoming Tuesday – and who knows, maybe even Sergio Busquets will once again drop to the bench? Alex Song performed well last weekend, perhaps encouraging Martino to hand him a little more responsibility. Or maybe Busquets will start – the choice is Tata’s.
Just as Martino has free reign over his selection in central midfield: he could start Xavi, he could start Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Sergi Roberto, Jonathan dos Santos or even push Sergio Busquets or Alex Song further forward. We’ve seen his rotation policy, but does Martino like to experiment, tactically-speaking? If so, what better time to start than in this seemingly straight-forward encounter?
If that means dropping Neymar to the bench, then that’s fine by me. Cristian Tello deserves a chance to shine on the left-flank anyway; maybe the Brazilian could then make a late cameo in the centre of attack? It’s probably wishful thinking, but it’s also a role that he could perform, certainly better than Sergi Roberto (even if Roberto was surprisingly adept as the false nine in his late cameo on Tuesday). Elsewhere in the attack, Lionel Messi will start – and Pedro could return to the fold following Alexis Sánchez’ somewhat wasteful display against Real Sociedad.
Almeria left-back Cristian Fernandez returns to the squad after serving his one-match suspension for a red card picked up against up Levante last weekend – although other from that, Almeria coach Francisco is expected to name a similar line-up to the one that lost to Malaga on Tuesday.
FC Barcelona 3-1 UD Almeria – 9th April 2011 – La Liga
Barcelona produced a second-half comeback to secure the three points at home to struggling Almeria, as a brace from Lionel Messi inspired Barça to a crucial victory in the race for the La Liga title.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Montoya; Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas; Pedro, Messi, Sánchez
Almeria (4-2-3-1): Esteban; Rafita, Trujillo, Pellerano, Dubarbier; Tebar, Verza; Suso, Soriano, Vidal; Rodri
This one isn’t even going to be a contest – Barça should easily grab a few more goals and might even keep a clean sheet into the bargain. I’m going for a 5-0 away win.