Another tedious international break passes and Barça are back in action with a set of eight games in three and a half weeks. We begin the action on Saturday night with the visit of Racing Santander to Camp Nou (kick off 8pm). Injury scares over Eric Abidal and Xavi have turned out to be nothing, but the best news has to be that Andres Iniesta has been training normally and will almost certainly feature at some point in the game. Cesc Fabregas is also close to a return though he will probably not be back until the Sevilla game on Saturday 22nd, while the news on Alexis is not so good and he is expected to be out until mid-November.
Whether Iniesta starts or not I think we are likely to see another 3-4-3 line-up; we could see a midfield comprised of Busquets, Xavi, Keita and Thiago behind our MVP forward line. The interesting thing will be to see who plays at the back, with the defence of three Guardiola has left World Cup winning partnership Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué on the bench seeming to prefer the speed of anticipation of Alves, Mascherano and Abidal. It is a long season and a lot of things can happen but it is certainly an interesting development. Poor Andreu Fontás must be wondering how he can get in the team if Piqué and Puyol are on the bench.
Our opponents Racing have yet to win in La Liga this season, they took a 1-3 lead at Mestalla on the opening day of the season before Valencia fought back for a thrilling 4-3 win, they were hammered 4-0 at Atlético Madrid but since then have only conceded one goal in three games which included a goalless draw at home to Real Madrid. With Hector Cúper in charge I think we can expect a defensive approach with a 4-2-3-1 system that translates into everybody back except for the lone striker. Not many big names at Racing: of course we all know (and love to hate) Pedro Munitis, but at 36 he may well not play and he does not pose as big a threat as he used to; other players who stand out include the defensive midfield pairing of Papa Diop and Alexandros Tziolis while the young central defender Alvaro looks a good prospect despite only having played nine liga games so far in his career.
Racing have got a pretty dreadful record playing us in Barcelona, having only won twice and drawn five in 43 league visits. However, they did manage to upset the show in Pep Guardiola’s first home league match as Barça coach, stealing a point in a 1-1 draw, also after an international break. If you remember we only took a point from our first two matches of the 2008/09 season and Guardiola was being questioned by the less insightful among us.
The sportspapers always struggle to fill their pages during the international break though one story that surfaced this week was the curious fact that Leo Messi and Bojan Krkic are distant cousins. Apparently their great great-grandfathers were brothers. From the inevitable transfer rumours I have to say that the story of a possible bid for Ashley Cole is not the sort of thing I want to be reading. I can’t see anything coming of that rumour though I have to say that the possible interest in Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels sounds a bit more to my liking.
That’s all speculation about the future. What is for sure is that we a lot of games coming up right now, they might not look that tough on paper but it will not be easy to maintain our unbeaten run this season to the end of this series of games. Just for the record the forthcoming fixtures are:
Sat 15 Oct – Racing (h) 8pm
Wed 19 Oct – Viktoria Plsen (h) 8.45pm
Sat 22 Oct – Sevilla (h) 10pm
Tues 25 Oct – Granada (a) 8pm
Sat 29 Oct – Mallorca (h) 8pm
Tues 1 Nov – Viktoria (a) 8.45pm
5/6 Nov – Athletic Bilbao (a)
9 Nov – Copa del Rey (last 32 1st leg)
Possible starting XI vs Racing: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Thiago; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
My prediction: Barça 4 Racing 0