There is relative calm in Barcelona today. After a dramatic week with defeat to Real Madrid in La Liga, the Champions League exit against Chelsea followed by the bombshell of Pep Guardiola’s decision not to continue, one might expect the mood to be gloomier.
However, the positive reaction from the Camp Nou crowd after Tuesday’s disappointment and the knowledge that Tito Vilanova will be taking over as first team coach has left the sensation that the club is in a very good position and that we can look forward to continued success following the same philosophies and playing the same type of football.
Following Guardiola with his 13 trophies in four years will of course be tough. Curiously, if Pep makes it 14 with the Copa del Rey on May 25, then Vilanova will get his first chance for a trophy in the Spanish Supercopa in August, and he will be banned from the touchline for the first leg having received a one-match ban for attacking José Mourinho’s finger with his eyeball. If, as seems likely, Real Madrid win the league title and if he hasn’t slung his hook and gone back to Roman Abramovich, then Mourinho, who can at least be considered to be the one who provoked Tito’s eye, will be banned from both games.
Until Madrid clinch the league it is Barça’s duty to give everything in every game. If we throw them the league this week you can bet your bottom dollar they will lose their last three games just to make us feel worse. Tomorrow we play Rayo Vallecano at 21.30h local time, Guardiola has sixteen first team players available after the injuries to Xavi and Piqué so Montoya, Bartra and Tello again travel with the first team.
With four games left in the league Rayo are just one victory away from relegation safety. However, they have lost their last three and will no doubt be wanting to end that run sooner rather than later. With coach Jose Ramon Sandoval in charge we can expect an open game as Rayo usually play a high-pressing game. At 34, Raul Tamudo is still knocking in goals, having scored 8 in 28 games since signing for Rayo last summer, though the biggest danger comes from attacking midfielder Michu who has a tally of 15 in the league this season.
Following the jaded look of our second half performance against Chelsea there were calls to rest players with an eye to having everyone at 100% for the Copa del Rey Final. However, I’m sure the tiredness was more mental than physical and I really don’t see the need to rest anybody unless they have an injury. Players who need minutes, such as Ibi Afellay and Jose Manuel Pinto, should of course be given a chance to find some form.
The pressure is off now and unless a player specifically asks for a rest then they should be ready to play. If Leo Messi is up for it he should be given every chance to increase his incredible goal-scoring tally. Our final league game against Betis is on May 13th which gives us 12 days to rest and to prepare for the Copa, which is plenty.
Barça squad vs Rayo: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Bartra, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Cuenca, Alexis, Messi, Tello, Afellay.
Possible starting XI: Pinto; Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano; Thiago, Keita, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Afellay.
My prediction: Rayo 2 Barça 3