Champions League football returns on Wednesday night with the visit of Football Club Viktoria Plzen to Camp Nou. This is the first time Barça have ever played the Czech champions and we will be looking for the three points to keep up the challenge with rivals AC Milan for top spot in Group H. We are still without Cesc Fabregas while Gerard Piqué has joined Ibi Afellay and Alexis Sanchez on the injured list.
Our opponents are not very well known to the average football supporter, Plzen being better known for its beer than for its football. The fact that their full name, like Barça, begins with the english “Football Club”, that their nickname is “the beer boys” and that they play in blue and red stripes gives them a good start in the likeability stakes. They were founded in 1911 and basically won nothing for 99 years until lifting the Czech cup in 2010. That took them into last season’s Europa League where Besiktas knocked them out early on. However, they celebrated their 100th year by winning the Czech league for the first time thus getting into their first ever Champions League where they beat Rosenborg and FC Copenhagen to qualify for the group stage and so far they have a 1-1 home draw with BATE Borisov and a 2-0 defeat at AC Milan. The fact that they play in a stadium with a capacity of only 8,000 (except in European games when they play in Prague) and that all their players come from the Czech Republic except for four who are Slovakian gives the impression of a well-organized and passionate club. This season they are currently 4th in the Czech league and are known to play attacking football, they have only one clean sheet in their last twelve matches which suggests that defence is not their strong point.
Barça on the other hand have been clocking up clean sheets with some regularity and Victor Valdés hasn’t conceded a goal since the 2-2 draw at Valencia. With the busy schedule we are facing there are bound to be some changes to the team Guardiola will be looking to use everybody. I expect we will see a return for Mascherano, Busquets and Keita after they were all rested in the 3-0 win over Racing and I also think that either Pedro or Villa could be rested so we may see either Iniesta or perhaps Adriano playing further forward. With an important game coming up against Sevilla we may see a chance for Andreu Fontás who has had limited opportunities this season, though the club has shown confidence in the young defender by extending his contract until 2015 with an increased buy-out clause of €70 million.
Viktoria have obviously gone a long way for such a small club and it would be a dream for them to take anything from the game. Sometimes football throws up these fairy tales and with a courageous performance and touch of luck the minnows are capable of beating the favourites. You can get something like 40/1 with the bookies on a Viktoria victory and I can honestly say I cannot remember ever seeing such long odds for one team to win a football match. If I were a romantic neutral I might well have a small flutter; however, I am not and I confidently predict a handsome Barça win.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Fontas, Adriano; Thiago, Busquets, Keita; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Viktoria: Cech; Limbersky, Bystron, Rajtoral, Cisovsky; Kolar, Jiracek, Horvath, Petrzela; Duris, Bakos.
My prediction: Barça 6 Viktoria 1