Tata Martino has decided to rest Xavi Hernandez and Alexis Sanchez for tomorrow evening’s league match at Valencia (Sunday 9 pm). Barça will be hoping to continue the 100% start to La Liga with another victory and Martino has recalled Adriano Correia to his 19-man squad for the game at the Mestalla stadium while there is also a place for Leo Messi after concern about his fitness this week.
Messi’s problems were made evident when he trained apart from the group on Thursday and Friday. However, this morning (Saturday) he trained normally with his teammates and looks likely to make the starting team tomorrow. Messi has been struggling with minor injuries ever since his hamstring injury against PSG in April, an injury that was blamed on the player’s lack of rest. The club, no doubt, recognize the need to have him at his best in the closing stages of the season and there would be no reason to take any unnecessary risks with him now. If he plays tomorrow it should be because he is in optimum condition, otherwise it would make more sense to start him on the bench.
It is very early days to be judging Martino, and after taking full points from the first two league games and clinching the season’s first title, it might be said that he has made the perfect start. However, having scored seven in the opening game against Levante, Barça have only managed to find the net twice in the last three games, a poor return given the immense talent of our forwards. On the positive side the defence has only conceded one goal in four games this season though Victor Valdés has needed to demonstrate his worth on several occasions already. Only time will tell if Martino’s apparent decision not to sign a central defender is exposed during the season.
Of course we need to be patient. Neymar is still adapting to his new team, Messi has not been at his best and Andrés Iniesta is a long way from the form we saw last season. Despite maintaining the general philosophy of play, Martino has introduced his own variations. The full backs take fewer risks and have been told to make runs inside the wingers rather than overlapping, there is the intention to return to the highest-possible pressing game while there is sometimes a slightly more direct style with the midfield trying to find the forwards more quickly. Even with minor changes the players need time to assimilate the new ideas.
Tomorrow’s opponent’s Valencia have begun the season with a 1-0 home win over Malaga and a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol. Like most teams in Spain, Valencia have needed to sell more than buy in this summer’s transfer window. Roberto Soldado (Tottenham €30 million), Tino Costa (Spartak Moscow €7 million), Nelson Valdez (Al-Jazira €3 million) and Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors €1.7 million) have been sold, David Albelda has retired and Aly Cissokho (Liverpool) and Johnathan Viera (Rayo Vallecano) have been loaned out.
Valencia’s biggest signing has been the €7 million paid to Mexican team Monterrey for Columbian striker Dorlan Pabón who scored eight goals in 17 games in a short spell at Betis last season including the opening goal in Barça’s 4-2 over Betis at Camp Nou last May. Pabón’s transfer has been cleared in time for tomorrow’s game and he could replace another summer signing, Helder Postiga (Zaragoza €3 million) in the starting XI. Coach Miroslav Djukic has three other new players at his disposal, Michel Herrera (Levante €420,000), Javi Fuego (Rayo Vallecano free) and ex-blaugrana, Oriol Romeu (on loan from Chelsea). Djukic is expected to make various modifications to the team that lost at Espanyol including a possible change of goalkeeper with Vicente Guaita in line to replace Diego Alves. Djukic has also tried out with Andres Guardado at left back in training this week and there could also be a place in the starting XI for Dani Parejo and Sergio Canales.
For Martino the most logical Barça XI would seem to be the same team that started against Atlético on Wednesday with Pedro and Iniesta coming in for Alexis and Xavi. With a probable midfield three of Busquets, Fabregas and Iniesta it will be interesting to see how Fabregas and Iniesta combine to work the Xavi role. Will one of the two be asked to play a role closer to Busquets or will they take it in turns to drop deeper?
Last season’s game in Valencia ended in a 1-1 draw at the start of February, Ever Banega put Valencia in front after 33 minutes but Leo Messi converted a penalty five minutes later to earn Barça a point. Given that Valencia look a long way from their best, Barça should be looking for all three points tomorrow, but it is never going to be easy at Mestalla.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Song, Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Valencia: Guaita; João Pereira, Rami, Ricardo Costa, Guardado; Michel Herrera, Ever Banega, Dani Parejo; Feghouli, Pabón, Canales.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Valencia 1 Barça 2
Date: Sunday 1 September 2013. Kick off: 9 pm local time.