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FC Barcelona's Next La Liga Opponent: Jornada 16 – Córdoba CF Scouting Report & Key Battles

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Hello and welcome to the scouting report and key battles weekly column! This week’s edition will take a closer look at Cordoba’s transfers, form, strategy, a few things you (probably) didn't know about the club, predicted line-up and key battles.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Cordoba's story is pretty awe-inspiring. First time in La Liga since 1972, promoted in extraordinary circumstances and no buys nor sales this season. It's a club with a rich history and you can read a bit about it in this article by Sid Lowe for The Guardian titled:"The Arcángel roars as La Liga makes its longed-for return to Córdoba."

Further to this, check out this piece by Heath Chesters for Inside Spanish Football titled:"Córdoba must sell before they can buy in January", which highlights Cordoba's current financial situation.

Transfers

Cordoba are the only club in La Liga to both not spend a single penny on players in transfer fees and to not sell. All of their arrivals and departures have been either on a free or on loan. Astonishing and refreshing both at the same time.

They have made an excellent free signing in Iñigo López from PAOK. They have also signed Deivid from UD Las Palmas, Mike Havenaar from Vitesse, Aritz Lopez Garai from Sporting Gijon and Patrick Ekeng Ekeng from Lausanne.

Cordoba have also made a string of incredibly useful loans in Borja García from Real Madrid Castilla, Fede Vico from Anderlecht, Jose Angel Crespo from Bologna, Nabil Ghilas from Porto,  Fausto Rossi from Juventus, Aleksandar Pantic from Villarreal, Federico Cartabia from Valencia CF, Fidel from Elche CF and Matos from Fiorentina.

Cordoba have also had a few players leave on a free. This includes Pedro to Real Zaragoza, Jaime Astrain to Real Jaen, Raul Bravo to PAE Veria and Nwankwo Obiora to Coimbra. The likes of Miguel Ángel Nieto, Joselu, Juanlu and Jose Carlos have also left the club.

Form

Considering that Cordoba haven't been in the first division since 1972, their start hasn't been appalling. Instead, it's been poor. They have only won one game in 15, and that was surprisingly in an away game to Athletic Bilbao 2 weeks ago. With 8 draws they are the ‘draw kings' of the league, and quite comfortably too. Only Granada are anywhere near with 6 draws. Cordoba also have suffered 6 losses this season, definitely a team that's experienced all the possible emotions this season. On the bright side, with a win and a draw in the last two matches, Cordoba are currently in their best form of the season so far.

Strategy

Cordoba are strong at aerial duels and stealing the ball from the opposition. Cordoba also have weaknesses. They are weak at defending against through ball attacks and avoiding fouling in dangerous areas. Further to this, despite being strong at aerial duels, they are very weak at defending set-pieces and defending against attacks down the wings.

In terms of style of play, Cordoba like to take long shots, attack down the right (no wonder really, with Fede Cartabia being one of their key players), they play with a lot of width, like to rotate their first eleven and play in their own half.

Those who have been reading these scouting reports will know that 4-2-3-1 is the most common formation used in the league. And it's not just the ‘smaller' teams who use and attempt take full advantage of this system. Some of the best teams in the world use this formation, including Chelsea, Manchester City and Dortmund. Check out this (an excellent article on tactics written by Jonathan Wilson for The Guardian in 2008) and this (another very useful article on the 4-2-3-1 written by Sam Tighe for Bleacher Report in 2013) on the ever so popular 4-2-3-1.

A Few Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Cordoba CF

El Libero Guide writes: "Known for its historic Muslim attractions, Cordoba made the front pages of Spain's sports pages in June 2014 when flagship club Córdoba CF dramatically gained promotion to La Liga. It wasn't so much the fact that The Caliphs hadn't been in the top flight since 1972 - it was the way they achieved their long-awaited return.

Trailing Las Palmas 1-0 in the second leg of the promotion play-off in the Canary Islands, Córdoba seemed destined to another season the Segunda when home fans in Gran Canaria took to the pitch in celebration in injury time.

The referee duly stopped the game for ten minutes, then had the two teams play out stoppage time. During the last minute, Mexican midfielder Ulises Dávila equalised for Córdoba, sending the Andalusians to La Liga and causing even wilder scenes on and off the terraces of the Estadio Gran Canaria.

Spain, perhaps even Europe, has never seen such a sensational end to a play-off. Up until then, drama and sensation would hardly be the words best used to describe football in Cordoba. The game here has been defined by mergers and lower-flight football.

The first significant club to emerge here was Racing, founded in 1928 from an amalgamation of Real Córdoba and the local sports club for electromechanics. Renamed the more Spanish-sounding Club Deportivo in 1940, Córdoba played at the Estadio América until club president José Ramón de la Lastra y Hoces moved them to the stadium he built, Estadio del Arcángel. A monarchist, the president also arranged for his club to assume a royal title, Real Club Deportivo.

All in vain. In 1954, Club Deportivo collapsed under a mountain of debt. That same year, Club Deportivo Álvaro, also from Cordoba and in the same third division as their local counterparts, folded as well.

In their place came Córdoba CF, soon based at the Estadio del Arcángel which the City bought from the la Lastra y Hoces estate - the former president had passed away before the bankruptcy. Just as Club Deportivo had spent most of their history in the Segunda, so Córdoba CF spent six seasons in the Second before a first-time promotion in 1962."

Predicted Line-up

Juan Carlos will start in goal. Edu Campabadal seems to be the first-choice for the right-back position for the time being, having started the last three La Liga matches, but Cordoba have many options in this particular area, including, Aleksandar Pantic, Adrian Gunino and Jose Angel Crespo. Yet Aleksandar Pantic and Inigo Lopez should be the two centre-backs with Dani Pinillos possibly at left-back.

Fausto Rossi has just returned from injury and played for the whole match. It is unclear whether he will continue against Barcelona or whether Luso and Deivid/ Patrick Ekeng Ekeng will start (as stated above, Miroslav Djukic loves to rotate). The excellent Federico Cartabia fractured his jaw in an accident last week and will therefore miss out. Borja Garcia should therefore start on the right-wing, Abel Gomez in the centre and Fidel on the left-wing.

The inconsistent ‘New Benzema', Nabil Ghilas, will lead the line.

Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Carlos; Campabadal, Pantic, Lopez, Pinillos; Luso, Deivid; Garcia, Gomez, Fidel; Ghilas

Key Battles

Ability to break down v A compact defence: This is the battle which is usually key in this sort of matches. The attack usually either scores an early goal and then a few more, or does the opposite and struggles to even score one. A repeat of Getafe or Huesca? There is no doubt that Barcelona will attack in numbers and that Cordoba will defend as well as they can and with their heart on their sleeves.

High defensive line v Counter-attack: Cordoba's counter-attack is decent, as seen during their 4-2 loss against Atletico Madrid. Of course, it's not as good as the likes of Valencia, Sevilla, Almeria, Celta Vigo, Getafe, or arguably even Elche. Yet they will know that they will in all likelihood get a one or two good chances against Barcelona. This is because Barcelona have made a habit of making individual (and collective) errors a few times in most games. Barcelona's high defensive line will therefore need to be fully focused at all times if they are to keep a clean-sheet.

Set-pieces v Set-pieces: How will the two teams fare in set-pieces? Cordoba and Barcelona are both poor at attacking corners having only scored 1 and 2 respectively as per Squawka. According to WhoScored, Barcelona are very strong at defending set-pieces, whilst Cordoba are very weak.

Rotation v Rotation: Both managers love to rotate their starting eleven. What sort of a difference will this make and is there really a need for it with this being the last game before the winter break?

Complacency v Hunger: If Barcelona underestimate Cordoba then there is the slight potential for a low-scoring draw. Yet Barcelona will be eager to win and remain in touch with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Final Thoughts

Barcelona last beat Cordoba 5-0 at the Camp Nou in 2013 for a Copa Del Rey tie, but this is an improved Cordoba team, and a Barcelona that's not quite at its best yet. Despite this, I very much doubt that Corodba will score. They'll also miss the tricky Cartabia, who has been described as "the poor man's Messi." Not bad at all, if you ask me. I think a 4-0 or 3-0 win is on the cards.

There is a lot to respect about Cordoba and I therefore wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season, especially on their mission to stay up.

Moreover, congratulations to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Volvo advert for being the best football-related advert of 2014, as voted by you! The quality of the nominees was sky high yet it still came out on top with 46% of the votes.

With this being the last scouting report of 2014, I wish a Merry Christmas to all those celebrating, and a Happy New Year to all!