FC Barcelona will return to La Liga action tomorrow hoping to temporarily extend their lead at the top of the table to five points with a victory over relegation-threatened, Cordoba CF. The Andalusians sit a worrying 11 points from safety with just four matches left to play this season, meaning that a Blaugrana victory tomorrow would consign them to the Segunda Division in their first season back in the top flight.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that Cordoba CF have a lot to play for – a lot of players might find themselves looking for a new club for instance if the club is relegated, so they’ll be doing their utmost to ensure that doesn’t happen tomorrow. This, coupled with Barcelona’s upcoming midweek UEFA Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich could mean that surprise result is in the offing.
Then again, Cordoba are rooted to the foot of the table for a reason.
With just three victories to their name all season-long, Cordoba aren’t suddenly going to find form and secure their own survival – sorry, but that’s just the truth. Barça have a chance to put them out of their misery tomorrow, and I fully expect them to take it.
Why am I so confident you might ask? Well, aside from Cordoba’s abysmal record, the squad making tomorrow’s trip to Andalusia is perhaps our strongest, even with the clash against Bayern on the near horizon. Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya, Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas were previously thought to have been in with a chance at starting tomorrow; but all four have been left out of the squad in favour of the big guns.
Therefore, it would be wise to expect a strong selection from Luis Enrique tomorrow; Claudio Bravo will start in goal looking to keep his fourth successive clean sheet and his 21st of the campaign. It would also be Barcelona’s fifth consecutive shut-out in all competitions – and as much as the star-studded frontline gets the attention, our chances against Bayern Munich probably hinge on us extending that defensive record as much as anything.
But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here; moving back to the Cordoba game, it would be prudent to suggest that Barcelona might start with Adriano Correia at right-back, as one would think that Dani Alves will be rested in anticipation the Bayern clash. Then again, could it also mean that Enrique is planning on reverting to a three-man backline?
In principle, it could work and help rest a few key names. Marc Bartra could start again on the right-side of the three; Gerard Pique could come back in the middle of the trio after his midweek rest and Jeremy Mathieu would provide the balance on the left. It’s unlikely, but hey, it could be worth a try.
In midfield, the absence of Sergi Roberto suggests that Javier Mascherano might start at pivote to hand Sergio Busquets a well-deserved rest – but again, this is based on the assumption that Enrique is planning to rotate as much as possible before Bayern. He might not be – he might not want to spoil our rhythm. After all, if we can end the match as a contest in the first-half, as we did against Getafe and Espanyol earlier in the week, we can rest in the second-half and conserve energy for Bayern that way.
It might seem as though I’m preoccupied with that match, which is probably because I am – this match against Cordoba will be enjoyable, for sure, but it’s just the appetiser in this upcoming week of football. And who can blame anyone for looking forward to the main course?
Anyway, ahead of Mascherano, assuming we stick to the usual 4-3-3, Ivan Rakitic will start and he will likely be partnered with Andres Iniesta. It might seem odd to suggest as much with Bayern coming up on Wednesday, but Rakitic hasn’t featured in a couple of matches now and really, it would be unprecedented for him to go a third match sitting on the bench. Similarly, Iniesta sat out on Wednesday against Getafe, and rarely goes two games without a start.
After impressing in midweek, the Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar frontline established themselves as the most prolific in Barcelona history, but the chances are that at least one of them will be rested tomorrow. That would mean a rare start for the out of sorts Pedro, and there’s an outside chance that someone like Rafinha or even Adriano could feature in attack at some stage in the match if Enrique really wants to rest his stars. For now, expect Messi to be joined up top by Neymar and Pedro, although another run-out for the MSN shouldn’t be out of the question either.
Luis Enrique has urged his side to remain concentrated on the task at hand and take tomorrow’s match with Cordoba just as seriously as they plan to take the Champions League semi-final with Bayern. It is wise advice, and Cordoba have responded with just as much respect. Jose Antonio Romero spoke to the press today and was effluent in his praise for the Blaugrana, but he also said that anything can happen in 90 minutes. A win would only delay the inevitable, but it would serve as a highlight in an otherwise disappointing return to the Primera Division.
FC Barcelona 5-0 Cordoba CF – 20th December 2014 – La Liga
Barcelona ended for the winter break on a high note with a Manita victory over Cordoba at the Camp Nou, as goals from Pedro, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez and a late brace from Lionel Messi wrapped up an easy win.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Adriano, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar
Cordoba (4-2-3-1): Juan Carlos; Gunino, Lopez, Deivid, Edimar; Krhin, Luso; Vico, Bebe, Cartabia; Ghilas
Cordoba don’t actually concede a lot at home, in spite of their poor league form – and with Bayern coming up, I don’t think we’ll waste too much energy on what should be a straight-forward victory. 3-0 Barça.