FC Barcelona will be hoping to bounce back from a somewhat frustrating weekend result tomorrow, when they welcome city rivals RCD Espanyol to the Camp Nou for the first-leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie. Los Periquitos held the Blaugrana to a goalless draw at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Saturday, but Barça head coach Luis Enrique is optimistic that his side will improve tomorrow, particularly with a couple of high-profile acquisitions set to make their Barcelona debuts.
Yes, that’s right: Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal have finally been registered with the LFP after a FIFA-enforced transfer ban prohibited them from playing for the previous six months. After an open training session on Monday, excitement is at a fever pitch for this derby clash and indeed for Turan and Vidal’s debuts; the club are quietly confident of a large crowd being lured in by the low prices, and will be aiming to keep them all entertained with a strong performance and a victory to match.
From a broader view, the result tomorrow is relatively immaterial. While it’s true that a sizeable win would see the Blaugrana all but book their place in the quarter-finals, with a second-leg to follow next week back at the Cornella-El Prat, this tie will remain up for grabs until the very end of that match. Just think of years gone by; remember when we were humbled by Getafe CF for instance?
Indeed, in many ways it is a disadvantage that the Blaugrana are forced to play the first-leg at home tomorrow; typically, our club thrives when they have a chance to rock the boat and score an away goal or two in the opening clash – or with a match at the Camp Nou left to save their blushes after any shock loss.
But really, can we complain? All things being equal, we should be far superior to Espanyol over the next 180 minutes of football – after all, we have designs on not just progressing in this tournament, but retaining the very trophy we lifted less than eight short months ago.
ARDA TURAN! ALEIX VIDAL!
We’ve been waiting for this moment for so very long that it almost doesn’t feel real, even after all this time. We are less than 24 hours away from seeing them both in action in a Barcelona jersey. I repeat, less than 24 hours. This is not a drill. And we have every reason to be excited; Arda Turan established himself not only as one of the best players in La Liga, but in the sport itself at Atletico Madrid.
The fiery, yet creative Turkish midfielder is a difference-maker, and it’s no secret that he has been dreaming of this moment for years. Ever since his days back at Galatasaray, Turan has openly confessed his admiration of the club, and now he gets to live out that dream and feature for us. Heck, he can do one better and star for us over the next five or six months, and indeed beyond that into next season.
This isn’t some journalistic hyperbole; Turan is simply that good. In 2014, The Guardian ranked him 38th in their annual list of the 100 best footballers in the world, which was enough to place him ahead of Ivan Rakitic, Xavi, Mesut Ozil and Carlos Tevez to name but a few. Admittedly, he fell a lot in this year’s list, which also isn’t a perfect measure of ability, but it shows the high esteem in which Arda is held by the football world when he can actually get out on the field and play.
Aleix Vidal on the other hand is something of an emerging prospect; he really put his name in the headlines during Sevilla FC’s UEFA Europa League campaign last season, where he featured across a variety of positions with one constant: his high-level of performance. The Catalan can challenge Dani Alves for his starting role at right-back, and could yet feature on the wing, or even on the opposite side of defense, depending on what Luis Enrique has in mind for his talents. Think a quicker, Catalan version of vintage Adriano Correia, and you’re along the right lines.
Have I mentioned that they can play yet?
I suppose the rest of the team deserves some mention as well; Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal, thankfully now that the ridiculous rumors claiming he might be leaving the club have died down to a murmur. I think Vidal will start on the right-hand side of defense, with Marc Bartra and Thomas Vermaelen my choices in the centre. I suspect that Jeremy Mathieu might feature on the left, but Jordi Alba is the more logical choice and Enrique is likely to want to keep at least one member or his usual backline on the field.
In midfield, we will see Sergio Busquets at pivote this week (while my money is on Javier Mascherano operating there next week, irrespective of the result tomorrow) with Arda Turan and Andres Iniesta my choices to accompany him in the two interior slots. Not mentioned above, Turan’s versatility and tactical intelligence could prove vital for Lucho over the coming months, as he could easily slot in either midfield role, or further forward should the need arise.
In attack, the MSN triumvirate will start, baying for blood (or goals) after drawing a blank on Saturday. Espanyol, you better watch out.
Unused substitute Rober Correa drops out of the squad, which makes way for a couple of new names: French centre-half Mickael Ciani and lively forward, Mamadou Sylla. Other than that, no changes for Constantin Galca and we can expect a similar approach given how well things went for the hosts on Saturday.
RCD Espanyol 0-0 FC Barcelona – 2nd January 2016 – La Liga
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Vidal, Bartra, Vermaelen, Alba; Busquets, Arda, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Espanyol (4-2-3-1): Pau; Javi Lopez, Roco, Alvaro, Duarte; Diop, Jordan; Asensio, Abraham, Perez; Caicedo
You can fool us once, but seldom can you fool us twice in the space of a few days. Espanyol expended a lot of energy in holding us on Saturday; back at the Camp Nou, we should win with relative ease. 3-0 Barca.