Keep the pace...at the moment, that's the only priority for FC Barcelona. Pending the result of tonight's La Liga clash between UD Almeria and Real Madrid, the Blaugrana may find themselves five points adrift of their eternal rivals by the time they kick-off tomorrow. That's in spite of the fact that Barcelona occupy the early Saturday afternoon kick-off slot; a spot that would usually ensure that the pressure would fall on Real Madrid to deliver a result. Alas, it is what it is; Barcelona will likely need a win to keep the gap to just two points, or they run the risk of handing Los Blancos what could be an unassailable lead, even at this relatively early stage of the season.
Such has been the form of Carlo Ancelotti's side; anything less than perfection from the chasing pack is punished. The possibility of 20 consecutive wins in all competitions lies in wait for Real tonight; a feat never before achieved within Spanish football. Unsettling, and ultimately overcoming that is the Blaugrana's mighty task -- and no doubt this is a conundrum that Madrid must have encountered countless times during the Guardiola era: just how can you possibly challenge perfection?
Naturally, it isn't over until it's over and Real Madrid's irrepressible form will not continue ad infinitum. They will slip up, whether it's sooner, or whether it's later, they will stumble. And when they do, we must not only capitalise, but we must be in a position to capitalise. Maintain the gap, keep the pace and we can pounce on their mistakes. A late equaliser here. A red card there. That might be all it takes to turn the tide back in our favour. Who knows, maybe we will witness a Madrid slip-up tonight at Almeria?
Key players are out injured. Others are suspended. FC Barcelona on the other hand boast a full complement of stars. No injuries. No suspensions. Just a whole bunch of players in good form; from Lionel Messi to Neymar to Luis Suarez. The supporting cast: the likes of Pedro, Marc Bartra and Marc-Andre ter Stegen -- if Real Madrid can win 19 successive matches, why can't we? A win over Getafe CF tomorrow and we're nearly half-way there...
Keep the pace...it's all we need to do.
No news is good news, right? Thomas Vermaelen aside, there are no new injury concerns for Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique, although there is one concern: the attitude and happiness of Martin Montoya. Allegedly the Catalan full-back has had enough of sitting in the stands and via his agent, has submitted a transfer request to leave the Camp Nou in January. His situation has been well-documented over the past few months, so there isn't much more to say; unless you're Luis Enrique, in which case our dear leader has reiterated that Montoya has a contract with the club and could therefore feature at any time. Provided he works harder and ticks the other boxes that Lucho is looking for that is.
Thankfully, Montoya's exclusion from the first team doesn't seem to have affected morale within the rest of the squad. There are no rifts to speak of, and everyone else appears to be getting on with their work as they always have been -- which makes one wonder why Montoya isn't seeing eye-to-eye with Enrique. No-one has an issue with his management style, does Montoya? Is that the real reason behind his exile? One day the truth might come out, but for now all we can do is speculate.
Given how that's not really very useful, it's time to get back to the task at hand -- predicting the line-up for tomorrow afternoon's match with Getafe. Across the board, it shouldn't be a particularly surprising match from a selection stand-point; especially compared to Wednesday's shock switch to a previously untested 3-3-1-3 system.
Claudio Bravo will return between the sticks, boasting what is by far and away the best defensive record in La Liga thus far this season. Just seven goals conceded in 14 matches; that's nearly twice as impressive as the closest challenger, Real Madrid who have conceded 12 in their 14 fixtures to date. Unusually, Marc-Andre ter Stegen seems to remain the fan favourite, yet for the foreseeable future, it should come as no real surprise that Bravo will retain his place.
In defense, Dani Alves will return to the side after serving a one-match European suspension for yellow card accumulation in the midweek UEFA Champions League Group F decider against Paris Saint-Germain and he will likely be joined in defense by another returning full-back: Jordi Alba. Somewhat surprisingly, the Catalan was omitted from the starting line-up for the match against PSG, a move that enabled Lucas Moura to run riot on the right-flank, albeit without much of an impact in terms of the final product. Still, it was a concern on the night and Cules will be glad to see Alba return, particularly with his recent form and blossoming partnership with Lionel Messi in mind.
In the heart of defense, my personal preference is to see Gerard Pique start alongside one other, but I can see Lucho mixing it up and starting Jeremy Mathieu alongside Javier Mascherano. In an ideal world, it'd be Marc Bartra alongside Gerard Pique, but I'm a realist. It's likely that Bartra will get some game-time in midweek, so for now he will sit out and have to watch from the bench.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets should continue at pivote after a somewhat mixed display against Paris Saint-Germain. As Rob remarked in his tactical review of the 3-1 win, the system that Enrique debuted didn't exactly play to his strengths, nor those of Andres Iniesta: something that reflected in Barcelona's less than dominant control of possession. Switching back to 4-3-3, with the likely return of Xavi Hernandez and Ivan Rakitic should provide the Blaugrana with the midfield stability they need to fend off Getafe tomorrow without too much threat.
Meanwhile, the attack continues to pick itself: Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were all in fine form on Wednesday, adding a goal apiece to secure the three points over the visiting Parisians and as such, there's no reason to anticipate that either one of the fabled triumvirate will be rewarded with a rest, particularly with the midweek Copa del Rey match in mind. That's when Pedro, Munir El Haddadi and Sandro can stretch their legs. Until then, expect to see Barcelona bring their A-team.
First team regular Sergio Escudero misses out, but aside from that one absentee, Cosmin Contra has his usual team available for tomorrow's match. Last season's hero, Angel Lafita is included amongst the 18-man squad along with current top-scorer Karim Yoda. However, it's a well-known fact that Getafe are struggling for goals this season and really, with that in mind how can they expect to compete with the Blaugrana? They need a super-human performance from former Valencia shot-stopper Vicente Guaita and a touch of good fortune at the other end -- in essence, they need a miracle.
FC Barcelona 2-2 Getafe CF -- 3rd May 2014 -- La Liga
The night that probably cost us the title...twice on the night we went ahead, courtesy of Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez and twice we were pegged back by Angel Lafita, condemning us to a single point when all three should have been ours.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Rakitic; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
Getafe are in poor form, but you never quite know how a match against them will pan out. It'll either be tough and hard-fought, or it'll be a rout. I'm erring on the side of optimism and predicting a 4-0 thrashing.
- FC Barcelona News: 12 December 2014; Martin Montoya Announces Intention to Leave, Bartomeu Welcomes Eric Abidal Back
- Barcelona 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain: Tactical Review
- FC Barcelona News: 11 December 2014; Barca Finish Group Stage in First Place after PSG Win, Reach UCL Milestone
- Getafe CF vs FC Barcelona: Pick the Lineup
- Post-Match Report: Two PSG supporters stabbed; Barça fans among suspects