After the excitement of the Supercopa on Thursday we now return to the league with a game at Osasuna before facing Madrid again next Wednesday. New signing Alex Song has been included for the first time in Tito Vilanova’s list of twenty players who will make the trip to Pamplona.
One of the most interesting problems for Vilanova this season is how he handles a larger squad. With a week to go before the closing of the transfer window we currently have 27 players if we include Eric Abidal and Cristian Tello in the list. This weekend Abidal, Muniesa, Thiago and Cuenca are all unavailable but from the other 23, Fontás, Dos Santos and Afellay have been left out, and it would surely be a good idea if loan deals could be found for these players.
Last season we lost 3-2 at Osasuna’s Reyno de Navarra stadium on a frozen pitch in February and our challenge for the league never totally recovered from the blow. Curiously, two players who were particularly poor that day, Piqué and Pedro, both seem to be finding their form very early this season. I am especially excited to see Piqué looking so good against Madrid. He has the talent to be the best central defender in the world but there are times it seems his concentration lets him down, and there were times last season when I was disappointed to see his name in the team as the Puyol-Mascherano pairing seemed to be our best. let’s hope he can step it up this season and return to his Piquenbauer best.
Another big talking point this week is the Victor Valdés error. It’s been a while since the Valdés doubters have had much ammunition but the fact that it was another error against Madrid (less than a year since he gifted Benzema a goal at the Bernabeu) does cause some concern, as does the fact that we seem to change goalkeeping coach every year.
Personally, I have no doubts about Valdés’s ability and mentality to be Barça’s first choice keeper, hopefully for years to come, while I have been gradually convinced by Pinto’s ability to be his substitute. Unfortunately, Valdés occasionally gets himself in trouble off the pitch, back in December 2008 there was the little-reported incident when he punched a man in a cinema after his female companion lit a cigarette, and just last week he was charged with fraud for falsifying documents claiming he was a qualified yacht skipper. Whether or not this latest incident affected his concentration on Thursday night is impossible to say. However, he has always responded well in the past to his mistakes on the field, and I remain confident that he is still the best man for the job.
For tomorrow’s game I imagine we will see some more rotations as Vilanova will no doubt want to play his best XI in the Bernabeu. With José Mendilibar still in charge at Osasuna we can expect our opponents to push up and press, so it might be another good game to play Cristian Tello whose speed can be used to get behind the advanced back line. I also expect to see Cesc Fabregas given another game, and maybe it’s a good moment to rest Xavi, while it will be interesting to see how Vilanova alternates Alba and Adriano or whether after a couple of good games Alba will get to keep the position to himself.
Whatever happens at least we won’t have to play on a frozen pitch tomorrow though there are storms predicted in Pamplona for Monday which knowing our luck will arrive early on Sunday night. If there is no massive flood or unexpected hurricane I’m going for a Barça win with Valdés keeping a clean sheet.
Barça list of 20: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Song, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Tello, Messi, Alexis, Villa.
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Tello.
My prediction: Osasuna 0 Barça 2