Twenty-one players have made the trip from Barcelona to Prague for tomorrow night’s Champions League match between Viktoria Plzen and Barça. Alexis Sanchez is one of those players, but unless Pep Guardiola is preparing a monumental surprise, it seems he has been included more as some kind of morale-boosting, team-bonding excercise as Alexis has still not received medical clearance. It may be slightly annoying but it seems more likely that he will return from his injury for Chile, though if he could be on the bench against Athletic on Sunday that would be fantastic.
The game of course has been switched to the Eden Stadium (home of Slavia Prague) as Viktoria’s home Strunc Park Stadium only holds 8,000. Viktoria have used the Eden Stadium before for European games so they should still gain some advantage of familiarity with their surroundings and of course the vast majority of the 21,000 crowd will be with Viktoria though 800 culés will be there supporting Barça. The last time Viktoria played here was in the opening game in Group H when they drew 1-1 with BATE Borisov.
Viktoria come into the game in good form, having beaten Hradec Králové 5-0 on Friday, though I think it is fair to say that Barça will give them a tougher test. In the game at Camp Nou the difference in class was quite clear to see and we really should have won by more than the final 2-0 result. Viktoria were pinned back around their penalty area for most of that game and it will probably be the same again tomorrow. Hopefully they will want to show a bit of ambition (Wouldn’t it be nice if their attitude were Let’s try and score a goal against the mighty Barça rather than Let’s try not to get hammered by the mighty Barça), but I imagine it will be nine men back with just Bakos left to wander alone up front.
Pep Guardiola has been surprising us all season with his team selection and tactics and there may be some more surprises tomorrow. It would seem a good opportunity to give some more playing time to Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol though I have to say here how impressed I have been with Mascherano and Abidal in recent weeks. We should also expect to see at least two out of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc though it would be no big shock if all three played from the kick-off, while Isaac Cuenca is still in the squad and following his game against Mallorca has every right to be considered for another start.
The 21 players who made the trip are: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal, Fontas, Adriano, Maxwell, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Thiago, Iniesta, Fabregas, Messi, Villa, Cuenca, Alexis.
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Villa, Messi, Iniesta.
My Prediction: Viktoria 0 Barça 3
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