Tomorrow night’s Copa del Rey return leg with Valencia at Camp Nou is arguably Barça’s biggest match so far of 2012. It seems that Pep Guardiola sees it that way which is why we should have Xavi Hernandez back in the team as we bid to reach the third final of the Copa with Guardiola in charge. It will certainly be a good omen if we are in the final in May as the two previous seasons we reached the Copa del Rey final we ended up winning the Champions League.
We know that the Copa will not make up for not winning the Liga (if Madrid manage to resist our brilliant final surge), but a Copa and Champions League would certainly leave our rivals below us in bragging rights over the summer. Valencia are never easy but we have a much better recent record against them at home than at Mestalla, so the fact that we survived the first leg with a 1-1 draw must make us clear favourites to get through.
There a plenty of doubts about who will be fit tomorrow. Besides the good news about Xavi there was also positive news as both Pedro and Iniesta trained normally today and should both be ok to play at least a part of the 90 minutes tomorrow. Alexis Sanchez is still not totally over his collar bone injury but will be ready to play if Guardiola considers it convenient, while Sergio Busquets exercised apart from normal training and it seems doubtful that he will be risked after having 15 stitches in his gashed knee.
If Busquets doesn’t play then we should see Javier Mascherano return to the defensive midfield role. This gives us less options in defence but we should see a line of Alves-Piqué-Puyol-Abidal in front of Jose Manuel Pinto. We could see the return of the magical duo of Xavi and Iniesta in midfield which leaves us plenty of options for who supports Leo Messi up front. There could also be some youngsters in the squad again, and today Sergi Roberto, who is 20-years-old today, Cristian Tello, Johnathan dos Santos, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Marc Muniesa all trained with the first team.
Valencia are unlikely to make many changes, if any, to the team we faced last week though it wouldn’t surprise me if Pablo Hernandez came in. At the weekend they got a hard-earned 0-0 draw at Atletico Madrid but suffered no injuries. Valencia have lost the last four games at Camp Nou (6-0, 4-0, 3-0 and 2-1) and haven’t won here since the 2003/04 season. Tomorrow if they can’t beat us then a 2-2 draw will be enough. However, I don’t see that happening, there were plenty of encouraging signs in our 2-1 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday and I feel sure we will improve on that performance and classify for the final against Athletic Bilbao or Mirandes.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Mascherano, Iniesta; Fabregas, Messi, Alexis.
Valencia: Diego Alves; Miguel, Rami, V.Ruiz, Alba; Albelda, Banega; Piatti, Jonas, Matthieu; Soldado.
My prediction: Barça 2 Valencia 0