Unionistas de Salamanca vs FC Barcelona
Competition/Round: 2023-24 Copa del Rey, Round of 16
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: João Cancelo, Ronald Araujo, Lamine Yamal, Marc-André ter Stegen, Gavi, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso (out)
Unionistas Outs & Doubts: None
Date/Time: Thursday, January 18, 2024, 7.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 6.30pm GMT (UK), 1.30pm ET, 10.30am PT (USA), Midnight IST (India)
Venue: Estadio Municipal Reina Sofia, Salamanca, Spain
Referee: Francisco Hernández Maeso
VAR: Eduardo Prieto Iglesias
How to watch on TV: Startimes World Football (Nigeria), Movistar (Spain), others
Following a painful El Clásico defeat in the Spanish Super Cup Final at the weekend, Barcelona are back home and make the long trip to the city of Salamanca for a Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie against third tier Unionistas de Salamanca at the Reina Sofia Stadium on Thursday evening.
Barça come into this one after their worst defeat of the season against their biggest rivals, and the massive overreaction from fans and press alike is par for the course in Barça Land. The mob mentality that takes over every single person associated with the Blaugrana when things are not going well is astounding, and it has never been more evident than it is now after a couple of tough months and the painful loss to Real Madrid.
But the world didn’t end, and Barça are getting ready to play another game. Win, lose or draw, win a title or get relegated, there will always be another game to play. And the only thing you can do is try to win the next one. Barça won pretty much everything from 2008 to 2015, but they spent a whole lot of time not winning in the years prior to that.
They haven’t won as much since then, but they did win quite a bit still. They just won La Liga seven months ago. They are going to win a lot again. That’s how football works. You try not to lose your mind and you keep loving and supporting your favorite team until they find a way to come back. Barça have always come back. They will again.
Yes, things are tough now, but sacking the coach is not the miracle solution to all the problems. Barça tried it three times with two different presidents in the last four years, but the deep institutional issues haven’t yet been addressed because they take time to be solved and the team has to try and do its best to be as competitive as possible until they have enough money to be really good again.
Xavi Hernández isn’t the greatest coach in the world, but all the greatest coaches in the world have a job right now and none of them would quit their current gigs to take charge of this current version of Barça with no money and a fanbase that loses its patience as soon as they’re not watching 2011 Barça after the first three games.
There will be really bad losses to Real Madrid sometimes, but we’ll beat them again. Perhaps very soon. And we could still get better this season. The squad is very talented and maybe, just maybe, the injuries will slow down just a tad and the best players will stay healthy for long enough to build continuity and play well for longer stretches.
Barça have no choice to move on, and they have a good chance to bounce back from the Clásico loss with a Cup tie against the lowest-ranked team in the competition. Yes, they can also suffer an embarrassing upset and lose. But they might also play well and win! You never know. That’s the beauty of football.
Barça won’t be fixed tomorrow. The magical perfect coach isn’t walking through the door, and sacking the current one might lead to something even worse. Now is the time to stick together and try to win the next game. And the next. And the next.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Fort, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Roberto, Romeu, Fermín; Ferran, Lewandowski, Félix
Unionistas (4-4-2): Martínez; Camus, Mayor, Giménez, Jiménez; Gómez, Nespral, Villar, Serrano; Slavy, Losada
Barça are undoubtedly not in great form but there’s been a massive overreaction to the Clásico loss. It happened, it hurt, it was tough to take, but this team is still capable of playing well and is definitely good enough to win this one: 2-0 to the good guys.