FC Barcelona will be looking to end 2014 on a positive night tomorrow afternoon, when they host Cordoba CF at the Camp Nou in their final match of the calendar year. It’s been yet another year of transition at the club; way back in January we were table-toppers, leading the rest of La Liga under the guidance of Gerardo Martino and now we are ending the year second-best. We surrendered our La Liga title to Atletico Madrid just months after Los Colchoneros eliminated us from the UEFA Champions League.
We lost in the Copa del Rey to Real Madrid who built on that momentum to also establish their superiority over the Blaugrana in the league and in spite of Luis Enrique’s appointment as first-team coach, it’s been the same old Barça, with the same old Barça problems.
Case in point; last weekend’s match against Getafe CF – it seemed like a relatively easy task on paper but faced with a resolute and disciplined opponent, not to mention some adverse conditions, Barcelona struggled. It wasn’t a one-off either; indeed these instances are increasing in their regularity while the truly great performances become rarer and rarer.
Be that as it may, it’s worth remembering that they have not disappeared entirely; while the calibre of opposition was far from eye-catching, the midweek demolition of SD Huesca demonstrated just how positive and promising the future might be. Especially against weaker opposition. And isn’t that what awaits FC Barcelona tomorrow afternoon?
Cordoba CF are back in La Liga for the first time in over 40 years and based on their start to the season, they might not be sticking around for too long. Just one win in fifteen matches characterises just how tough the Andalusians have found it to compete with the big boys; certainly it’s tough to imagine Cordoba turning that form around against a club like FC Barcelona, at the Camp Nou.
A rare chance perhaps for the club and for the players to deliver a great, all-round collective performance then? We’ll have to wait and see...
Good news! Neymar is back, and could be in contention to reclaim his spot in the starting line-up after his absence played a decisive factor in Barça’s disappointingly drab goalless draw with Getafe CF last weekend. Given that the last time we saw the Brazilian forward in a Blaugrana jersey he ultimately changed the game against Paris Saint-Germain with a sublime solo effort, it’s small wonder that everyone is so excited about the prospect of Neymar returning.
However, following a hat-trick in midweek against SD Huesca, Pedro Rodriguez continued his recent run of good form and as such has earned his place in the starting line-up. Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi and let’s be honest, a match against a relegation-threatened side like Cordoba could be just what the doctor ordered for a goal-shy Luis Suarez. It’s ironic that a side who struck a blank last week are so spoilt for choice in attack, but hey, that’s the way it is.
Getting back to the task at hand, Claudio Bravo will start in goal, and rather than re-hash the usual praise that I’m so used to writing when I "defend" his selection, I wonder whether I should take it one step further and ponder whether he’s the best of the five goalkeepers to feature in goal for Barcelona this calendar year. Victor Valdés, Jose Manuel Pinto, Marc-André ter Stegen and Jordi Masip...certainly, I would argue Bravo has been the most consistent, but what do you think? Let me know in the comments below because I’m genuinely curious about public perception on this one.
In defense, I’d love to see Martin Montoya start his second successive match, but I’m a realist and therefore expect to see Adriano Correia there instead. Or Marc Bartra. Or Douglas. Basically anyone other than Martin Montoya, simply because that’s what Lucho’s been doing all this season and I see no reason to think that he will change that based on one match against a third tier side. On the other side of defense, Jordi Alba will start and I expect that one really is a given.
In the heart of defense, Gerard Piqué seems to have re-established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet, so the question is: who will join him in the centre tomorrow? Marc Bartra gets my vote, but one suspects that it will be Jeremy Mathieu or Javier Mascherano instead.
Sergio Busquets will start as the midfield anchor, and ahead of the Catalan I expect to see the usual partnership – Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. Ivan Rakitić however will fancy his chances at securing a place in that midfield, and therefore there is a chance that Xavi will drop to the bench; it seems unlikely that he will unsettle Iniesta after the latter found form with a superb midweek performance against Huesca.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above it seems like a sure-fire bet that Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will continue upfront so the only question is about Neymar: will he displace Pedro, or will Lucho keep the faith in the Spaniard, opting to keep the Brazilian in reserve for a second-half cameo if and where appropriate?
They travelled to San Mames, and won. They went to the Santiago Bernabeu and only conceded twice. Cordoba might not be setting the world alight with their form this season, but they have proven themselves to be a tough nut to crack, even if they often struggle to convert this into positive results. The exception of course was that match against Athletic, just a fortnight ago. Have they turned the corner in La Liga? Could they threaten the Blaugrana?
Of course! There’s no reason why they can’t, and indeed they might just find their chances enhanced by their underdog status. Sometimes the most dangerous opponents are the ones who have nothing to lose...
FC Barcelona 5-0 Cordoba CF – 10th January 2013 – Copa del Rey
Even after a comfortable 2-0 win in the first-leg, Barcelona employed a strong line-up for this second leg and were rewarded with a fantastic Manita victory as David Villa and Alexis Sánchez both grabbed a brace, while Thiago Alcântara got his first goal of his final season at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Adriano, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Suarez
Cordoba (4-2-3-1): Carlos; Gunino, Pantic, Lopez, Pinillos; Rossi, Gomez; Cartabia, Borja, Fidel; Ghilas
Cordoba are on a run of relatively good form and don’t tend to concede an awful lot; based on that and the fact that I think Neymar will start from the bench, I’m going for a 3-0 Barça win.
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