FC Barcelona will be going through the motions tomorrow when they travel to Alicante to take on Elche CF in the second-leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 clash with the La Liga strugglers. Following a thoroughly convincing 5-0 Manita victory in the first-leg last Thursday, the Blaugrana all but ensured their place in the quarter-finals; certainly, there is not an individual on this earth that would say Elche have a chance of overturning the deficit. As such, it must be difficult for Barça to get suitably motivated for this match, which perhaps explains why so many are backing Luis Enrique to utilise some of La Masia’s brightest talents.
After all, if this match doesn’t mean anything to the superstars of our squad, it does represent a golden opportunity for some of our younger players to make a name for themselves, to test themselves against what is still La Liga calibre opposition. Admittedly, Elche are probably no better Las Palmas, Real Valladolid or Real Betis, but they do have some talent and experience amongst their ranks. Indeed, for our younger players that might not even matter anyway; each match brings them more experience and potentially brings them one step closer to unlocking their potential.
And for all the criticism of his coaching style, playing under Luis Enrique is a vast improvement to playing under the guidance of Eusebio Sacristan. For the likes of Adama Traore, Sergi Samper and Alen Halilovic, tomorrow’s match is anything but a dead-rubber tie – it would be foolish of Lucho not to seize their optimism and enthusiasm, although I suppose stranger things have happened...
We covered it in our daily news round-up today and recapped it briefly in our post asking you to pick your line-up for this match, but for anyone that hasn’t yet seen, it’s expected that Luis Enrique will be naming six B team players to his squad for tomorrow’s match. Well, five if you discount Munir El Haddadi who has not featured once for the mini-Blaugrana this season. Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean a call-up for Jean-Marie Dongou or Sandro Ramirez; rather it’s Sergi Samper, Edgar Ie, Alen Halilovic, Gerard Gumbau and Adama Traore who get the nod, suggesting that at least one of our "star" strikers might be in line for a start.
Starting from the back though, Marc-André ter Stegen will play in goal, probably dreaming of a similarly casual night between the sticks. Not once can I recall Elche forcing the German shot-stopper into a save, and while it probably isn’t that entertaining for a goalkeeper, both I and the team would probably take that ahead of our goal being plastered with shots any day of the week.
Ahead of the German, expect to see Martin Montoya and Adriano Correia on either flank, while Jeremy Mathieu could possibly make his return from injury in the centre of defense alongside Marc Bartra. However, the inclusion of Edgar Ie means that Mathieu may continue to rest, affording the Portuguese centre-half his first start of his Barcelona career. Or maybe not, we’ll just have to wait and see.
In holding midfield, Sergi Samper will serve as the anchor, with Rafinha and Sergi Roberto tipped to provide the support in the absence of Xavi Hernández. The Catalan midfielder’s recent injury struggles have gifted Ivan Rakitić his place in the starting line-up back, and perhaps from Roberto’s perspective, will serve as a blessing in disguise, opening up Lucho’s rotation to some fresh legs. In his start last week, Roberto played well and helped contribute in the build-up to one of our goals; more of the same and who knows, maybe he could force his way back into the first team reckoning.
In attack, Adama Traore should start and we know that Munir El Haddadi will start, so I think it’s simply a case of determining who joins them up top. The safe bet is on Pedro Rodriguez completing the attacking trident, but perhaps Enrique will opt to deploy Rafinha higher up as a false nine, bringing Alen Halilovic into midfield as his replacement? Halilovic could even feature on the wing himself, allowing Munir to play in his favoured central role – my money is on an appearance for Pedro though, so the best we can probably hope for from the Croatian is a cameo display off the bench.
Their revolutionary system featuring at least six defenders last week didn’t work, so it’ll be interesting to see what tricks Fran Escriba has up his sleeve this time round as he attempts to stop the Blaugrana from running riot, again. In spite of that crushing defeat in the first-leg, Elche displayed remarkable character to bounce-back and defeat Athletic Bilbao this past weekend, at the San Mames no doubt, much to the delight of their weary fans as Elche climbed off the foot of the table for the first time in what seemed to be an eternity.
On paper, their next match is a winnable one as well; Levante visit the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero on Sunday without a win in their last six La Liga matches – Escriba will want to give a good impression up against the Blaugrana, but will surely be focusing his attentions on that clash with Levante. Expect some rotations, and a similarly defensive outlook.
FC Barcelona 5-0 Elche CF – 8th January 2015 – Copa del Rey
Restoring Lionel Messi and Neymar to the fold worked wonders for Luis Enrique and his FC Barcelona side, who bounced back from their loss against Real Sociedad in style, demolishing Elche CF in the first-leg of this Copa del Rey showdown.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Montoya, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano; Samper, Roberto, Rafinha; Traore, Munir, Pedro
Elche (5-4-1): Tyton; Suarez, Roco, Pelegrin, Lomban, Cisma; Aaron, Pasalic, Fajr, Victor; Herrera
Another easy Barça win; I’m going for a 4-0 triumph.
- Elche vs Barcelona: Pick The Lineup
- Grading the Zubi Era: Barcelona Under Andoni Zubizarreta
- FC Barcelona News: 14 January 2015; Six Youngsters Join First Team in Training, Andre Onana Leaves for Ajax
- Neymar - Part 2: The Skinny Kid Who Grew To Greatness From The Streets To FC Barcelona
- La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-1 Atletico Madrid: Player Ratings