With a three goal aggregate lead to their name, FC Barcelona merely need to avoid catastrophe to book their place in the 2015-16 Copa del Rey quarter-finals tomorrow when they travel across town to take on RCD Espanyol at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat. The last time these two sides met created some controversy to say the least, with the Blaugrana’s star striker, Luis Suarez, being banned for two matches in his role in the post-match fall-out. Ideally, both sides will be hoping for an incident-free affair tomorrow night.
Whether that will materialise depends heavily on the players, all of whom have taken a rather dim view of each other in recent clashes. Clearly, neither Espanyol’s squad, nor Barcelona’s have shown any willingness to refrain from unsavoury challenges and verbal abuse – so it’s likely this will continue tomorrow. Barcelona need to be careful not to let this overwhelm them and prompt them into anything they will regret later.
After all, while Espanyol’s actions were met with widespread condemnation, it takes two to tango and Barcelona were far from saintly during the match. It goes without saying that we can ill-afford any more bans, or chances of sanctions against the club – and who cares about "getting even" with Espanyol when we’re literally streets ahead where it matters: on the field and on the scoreboard.
Heck, I think I could do Luis Enrique’s job tomorrow with a team-talk comprised of one simple sentence:
"Don’t do anything stupid".
Squad news will follow in the morning, so right now it’s anyone’s guess as to who might feature tomorrow. With the tie all but over, I expect a lot of rotation; Marc-Andre ter Stegen will feature in goal, and I suspect that we might see a rare run-out for the likes of Marc Bartra and Adriano Correia. Jeremy Mathieu has been busy posting about how grand life was at Valencia, so I’d be somewhat surprised if he featured tomorrow. Instead, my money is on Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano joining them in the backline.
Sergio Busquets got a rest in midweek, so he’ll probably start tomorrow – potentially in a more advanced role if Enrique feels like welcoming Mathieu back into the fold, and pushing Mascherano to pivote. Either way, Andres Iniesta is a lock for one of the midfield roles, and suspect Sergi Roberto will join him if the event Mascherano is in defense. Then up in the frontline the Luis Suarez suspension gives Enrique a dilemma; does he opt to start Sandro or Munir at centre-forward, or does he move either Lionel Messi or Neymar into the middle?
My money is on the latter, with Messi likely to reprise his former role as a false nine. Well, not the type of false nine that used to stick to a central slot; oh no, with Suarez out I suspect that the final offensive spot will go to Munir, who can seamlessly slot in and rotate during the game with both Messi and Neymar. It'd be good to see some 2008-09 or 2010-11 style position changes from the front three tomorrow; don't let me down guys.
I was tempted to write "who cares" and leave it at that, based on both the aggregate score and their generally thuggish behaviour last week. Alas, I'm going to be professional and give them a few lines instead. Just a random note though: Gulllem Balague is an Espanyol fan, and some people still wonder why he shouldn't be taken seriously. Whatever, Constantin Galca has been preaching the importance of concentration and effort ahead of the game, as if the reason they were defeated wasn't anything other than their squad is worse than Barcelona's.
It won't surprise you to know that Papakouli Diop is suspended, as is Hernan Perez after the pair both picked up a red card in last week's loss. You should expect Joan Jordan and Salva Sevilla to replace them respectively.
FC Barcelona 4-1 RCD Espanyol - 7th January 2016 - Copa del Rey
Y'all don't need me to recap this one do you?
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano; Mascherano, Busquets, Iniesta; Munir, Messi, Neymar
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Pau Lopez; Javi Lopez, Alvaro, Roco, Alvarez; Jordan, Abraham; Asensio, Salva Sevilla, Gerard; Caicedo
A close one, before we pull out in the second half to a 2-0 win.