Barcelona have just one more match before 2016 ends, the players go into 20 days of vacation and only return to action in mid-January. They deserve a break after a pretty awesome year of titles, goals, fun, disappointment, meltdowns, recoveries, the Espanyol game, and much more.
The La Liga campaign this year is over, the Champions League only returns in February, no more unnecessary friendlies in Qatar will be played, so what's left for Barcelona? The Copa del Rey Round of 32 (32!!!!!) second leg (second leg!!!!!!!) against Hércules on Wednesday night under the beautiful lights of the Camp Nou.
I have a theory to make the Spanish Cup early rounds more interesting: just have one game. Every smart Cup in the world does them (even Brazil will do them in 2017) and even in England, where the FA Cup still, somehow, has replay matches, they're not guaranteed like what we have in Spain.
It makes absolutely no sense to have a first division giant play a third (or in some cases, fourth) division team over TWO LEGS. We know who's going through, and the two-leg rule is actually design to protect the first division giants from crashing out too soon. But these early Copa ties are usually done in the first leg anyway, and unless a big team plays Cheryshev when they're not supposed to, they're going through anyway.
"But wait, didn't Barça need the second leg against Villanovense last year and against Hércules this year?", someone might say. While that's an astute observation, no one will ever convince me Barça were actually interested in playing the first legs against Villanovense and Hércules knowing that they had a game at Camp Nou later. Come on.
If Barça actually played against Hércules only once, they would have been a lot more interested than what we saw three weeks ago. That reserve team should have won at least 5-0 with ease and qualify to the Round of 16 without breaking a sweat. But because that game meant very little because of the second leg opportunity at Camp Nou, they knew that a mediocre, lazy performance in the first leg wouldn't hurt them in the return game.
Plus, the last image of 2016 for Barça fans would be the SPECTACULAR victory over Espanyol. Now, we still have to watch a game without a lot of appeal with the Barça reserves that will probably kill the tie within 20 minutes.
Thanks, Spanish FA.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar are already on vacation. None of the starters that played against Espanyol will be in action against Hércules, so this is another golden opportunity for the reserves to give Luis Enrique a good idea of who he can count on when the second half of the season starts. That includes Paco Alcácer, still in search of his first competitive goal for the club, who has a big chance of opening his account of official goals with a hat-trick.
The team just needs to be engaged, and Enrique mentioned that he expects exactly that from the players on Wednesday. They don't need a master plan on the tactical side or a really strong side. Any eleven players on the field will be much, much better than the strongest possible Hércules team, and the Blaugrana just need to be interested in the victory. If they are, the win will come. That simple.
They'll take a lot of pictures at Camp Nou, and during 90 minutes on the field, they'll try to shock the world. It could happen. But they're probably more excited with the trip to Barcelona. Who knows, though. Football.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Cillessen; Vidal, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne; Gomes, Rakitic, Denis; Rafinha, Alcácer, Arda
Hércules (4-5-1): Ivan Buigues, Dalmau, Inglés, Bueso, Peña; Checa, Omgba, Salinas, Gaspar, Chechu Flores; Mainz
Barça don't want a historic humiliation at Camp Nou to end the year. 5-1 to the hosts.