Barça take on Zaragoza at La Romareda tomorrow night looking for a ninth straight consecutive league win in order to maintain the pressure on Real Madrid who still have a six point advantage at the top of La Liga with eight games to play. It is understandable that many people will be looking forward to the enormous matches at the end of the month with Chelsea and Real Madrid, but before we travel to London for the Champions League semi-final first leg on April 18th we have three crucial league games against Zaragoza, Getafe and Levante that we must win if we are to stay in the chase.
Gerard Piqué has not recovered in time from his hamstring injury and misses the trip which means we will probably see Carles Puyol return to central defence alongside Javier Mascherano, while I imagine Adriano will come in at left back. When asked about possible tiredness, Pep Guardiola replied that we need to take the example of Athletic Bilbao who fought so hard at Camp Nou just 48 hours after their victory in Germany. The physical preparation of the team is intended to make us strong at the end of the season and we have always come good in the previous Guardiola seasons so it shouldn’t be a problem, as our recent run of eleven wins and a draw in Milan suggests.
Even so, there are bound to be more changes to the team that beat Milan on Tuesday, with Alexis, Thiago, Pedro and Keita all with a good chance of making the starting XI. The Barça B boys Tello, Montoya and Marc Muniesa all travel to complete a list of 19 for the trip. Muniesa had it confirmed this week that he will be a first team player next season.
Zaragoza will not be as easy as when we thumped them 4-0 in November. At the end of February our opponents looked doomed for the drop after a 5-1 defeat at Malaga left them 12 points away from the team in 17th place. Since then they have taken 13 points from six games including a run of three wins in their last three games, and they are now 18th on 28 points, just four behind 17th placed Villarreal.
Coach Manolo Jiménez took over from Javier Aguirre at the new year and he must take a lot of credit for the turnaround. Tomorrow, Jiménez must make do without the suspended David Mateos, Apoño and Luis Garcia, though there should be a place in defence for Abraham Minero who last season was playing for Barça B along with Edu Oriol who will probably start on the Zaragoza bench.
League games between the teams in Zaragoza have been pretty close historically with 21 victories for the home team, 16 draws and 2o wins for Barça. However, in recent years Barça have been more dominant and the last time Zaragoza took any points from us was in a 1-0 win back in the 2006/07 season. Since then Barça have won three times in La Romareda while Leo Messi has scored five goals in his last two visits, the best of which was this unbelievable goal.
Zaragoza is not a club that I like very much. I still remember the racist idiots who targeted Samuel Eto’o in 2006. We need the win tomorrow and I think we’ll grind it out.
Barça’s squad for the game. Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Muniesa, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Thiago, Iniesta, Fabregas, Cuenca, Messi, Alexis, Pedro, Tello.
Possible starting lineups:
Zaragoza: Roberto; Álvarez, Da Silva, Paredes, Abraham; Lafita, Pinter, Zuculini, Obradovic; Aranda, Postiga.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano; Thiago, Keita, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
My prediction: Zaragoza 0 Barça 2