After making it five wins from five with a narrow 1-0 victory over Valencia CF at the weekend, FC Barcelona face an altogether different challenge on Wednesday evening when they kick-off their 2014-15 Copa del Rey campaign with a short trip west where they will face Segunda Division 2B high-flyers SD Huesca at the Estadio El Alcoraz. After a rare weekend off, Huesca relinquished their lead of the division this previous Jornada to Barakaldo, yet in spite of their good form the footballing world is unanimous in their prediction of a comfortable Barcelona victory, particularly over two legs.
However, shocks can and do happen. Remember Alcorcon knocking out the mighty Real Madrid? Olimpic Xativa came close as well and sure enough, if you’re willing to dig through the history books you will find plenty of examples of giant-killings; even a few involving the Blaugrana. Unfancied though they might be, Huesca will be anxious to perform on the big stage and will confidence flowing through their collective veins, perhaps a shock isn’t as unlikely as you might think.
Or, it probably is. FC Barcelona are in excellent form once again and even if they field their B team, they’d still be overwhelming favourites with the mini-Blaugrana currently plying their trade a whole tier above lowly Huesca. The real opponent for this match will not be SD Huesca; it will be complacency. Will the hunger to continue winning and to avoid humiliation be enough to inspire FC Barcelona to victory, or will SD Huesca be able to deal a huge blow to Luis Enrique’s credibility with a surprise win over one of the world’s biggest clubs?
At the time of writing, Luis Enrique was yet to announce his final squad list for tomorrow’s match; although based on the individuals called up to the latest training session, one can probably make an educated guess at the identity of this squad. First off, the four B team players called up to training are probably going to make the final squad: that means a place for Sandro, Munir, Sergi Samper and Edgar Ie, who will likely be joined by the fringe players in our senior squad, plus a couple of star names.
The star name I expect to see on this squad list is Luis Suarez who is arguably still working his way back to full match sharpness based on his finishing at the weekend against Valencia, however this will represent a good opportunity to hand Lionel Messi a well-deserved rest in the hope that he can be rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders in this weekend’s Catalan derby clash with RCD Espanyol. Similarly, Neymar’s young legs might be rested, although I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing the Brazilian alongside Suarez, if only to help the two of them form something of a partnership without Messi in support.
Equally, I think that Xavi will miss this trip to recuperate ahead of the derby, while Andres Iniesta could equally feature to pick up a little bit of match fitness ahead of that same clash. All that aside however, the chances are that we’ll see a particularly young line-up from the Blaugrana tomorrow.
Jordi Masip is favourite to start between the sticks what with Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen monopolising the game-time in La Liga and in the UEFA Champions League, and really, if we’re being brutally honest, there’s not a lot to gain for Masip in this situation. If he plays well, it’s "only Huesca". If he doesn’t…well, let’s not go there. But you get the picture – Masip seems unlikely to play his way into the reckoning at this stage, but hey, might as well make the most of the money we’re spending on his wages.
At full-back, surely Martin Montoya will be given a chance? Right?? Don’t count on it just yet; in his pre-match press conference, Luis Enrique reserved some special praise for Douglas so it might turn out that Montoya still doesn’t get a look in. If that’s true, go out and stake your house on Monty leaving the Camp Nou in January.
Unless Montoya features on the opposite flank? He has played left-back before, but again, Lucho seems far more likely to favour another Brazilian, Adriano, and rightly so in this case. The former Sevilla defender will be an important presence in the team given his experience and his offensive qualities could prove useful against what’s likely to be a defensive Huesca side.
Moving onto the heart of defense, Marc Bartra and Edgar Ie are my choices for two centre-half berths and I’d be surprised to see anyone else feature ahead of them. Apart from Javier Mascherano that is; he’s featured in just about every game of Lucho’s reign, so never rule him out of contention.
In midfield, the inclusion of Sergi Samper in this morning’s training session indicates at a start for the talented B team pivote, in a move that is sure to please almost every Culé in existence. Samper is widely acknowledged the world over as one of La Masia’s latest gems and a chance to see him feature under Enrique is reason enough to tune in tomorrow. Joining Samper in midfield, I’d expect to see Sergi Roberto and Rafinha Alcantara, although I certainly wouldn’t frown at the inclusion of Ivan Rakitic after his surprise omission from the line-up on Sunday.
And that leaves the attack…as mentioned earlier, I fancy Luis Suarez to lead the line tomorrow with support provided by Pedro and Munir; although the inclusion of Sandro could come at Suarez’ expense. Selection dilemmas aside though, tomorrow’s match represents a fantastic opportunity for Pedro to regain some confidence. As one of the most senior members of the line-up, Pedro may find himself "leading the line", if Suarez doesn’t feature, irrespective of whether he starts out wide and in that sense, the club will be expecting him to lead by example. Preferably with goals, heaven knows he could use a couple.
Did I mention why SD Huesca didn’t play at the weekend? Oh yeah, that’s right – it was all due to a waterlogged pitch at the Estadio El Alcoraz, deemed too terrible to even bother starting the weekend’s scheduled clash with Fuenlabrada. Fortunately, the weather has improved markedly over the past couple of days and is predicted to hold up tomorrow, meaning that it shouldn’t get any worse, but that’s not to say it will be a whole lot better either.
That being said, it should take far more than a sub-par playing surface to stop the Blaugrana from registering an easy win tomorrow. Head coach Luis Garcia Tevenet recognises this, and mentioned that he doesn’t expect to challenge Barcelona for possession, irrespective of whether we see the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, or someone else entirely. He makes a great point – virtually all of the Barcelona squad represent their country at an international level and Huesca simply cannot compete in that respect.
However, they are hungry to put up a good fight and are going to go out tomorrow with the objective of winning the game. Naturally, that doesn’t guarantee an offensive approach; far from it, but it gives you a hint of the confidence that this side possess, even facing the odds as they are, and given injuries to two key midfielders, Jose Gaspar and Manolin.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Masip; Montoya, Bartra, Ie, Adriano; Samper, Rafinha, Roberto; Pedro, Sandro, Munir
Huesca (4-2-3-1): Jimenez; Aythami, David, Scardina, Morillas; Bernal, Ros; Josan, Juanjo, Gassama; Marti
Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m going for an understated win characterised by a tough first half and an eventual capitulation from the hosts: 2-0 to Barcelona.
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