The final day of the transfer window passed with relatively little activity at Can Barça. The only movement in the end was the loan deal agreed for Ibrahim Afellay to play this season with Schalke 04, while Johnathan Dos Santos and Andreu Fontás have both decided to stay at Barça and try to fight for a place.
This leaves our first team squad considerably bigger than we have seen in recent years and Tito Vilanova may have a complicated job to keep everybody happy. Three or four players will need to be discarded from the list for each match and it will be interesting to see how our new coach handles this.
It seems Vilanova intends to rotate players and in tomorrow’s league game with Valencia at Camp Nou (kick off 9.30 pm) there will no doubt be some changes to the team that lost at Madrid on Thursday. The good news is that Alves seems to have recovered from his hamstring problem so he should return at right back, though I don’t think Puyol will be risked. I have to confess I’ve been trying to find out if Adriano is suspended tomorrow but at the moment I can’t find a mention of it anywhere so I’m presuming he’s ok to play, we have yet to see the best of Jordi Alba and until we do I expect Adriano to push him hard for the left back position.
In midfield we may see a first start for Alex Song who looked very comfortable in his 15 minutes at the Bernabeu. With Fabregas also likely to return, it will be interesting to see how these two ex-Arsenal teammates combine within the Barça system. Fabregas has been questioned after a disappointing start to the season and he really could do with a decent game to get his confidence back. So far this season Vilanova has kept Iniesta in midfield and not played him on the left wing which suggest that Cesc will need to compete with Xavi, Iniesta and Thiago for the two midfield creative roles, and this means in the big games, like the recent Supercopa games, he will find himself warming the bench.
Valencia started the season with a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, but last week’s 3-3 draw at home to Deportivo suggests they still have some problems in defence. Ricardo Costa was sent off in that game and is suspended which means Rami will probably replace him at centre half. Coach Mauricio Pelligrini could also give a debut to new left back signing Aly Cissoko. Some of you may remember Pelligrini from his one season at Barça in 1998/99 when he played 23 games under Louis Van Gaal and won the league title.
We have had plenty of close battles with Valencia over the years but sometimes we have managed to find some brilliant displays like the one last February when an irrisistable Leo Messi scored four in a 5-1 victory. Messi has started the season with six goals in four games, a couple more tomorrow should help us on the way to winning three more points and maintaining our position at the top of the league for another week.
One final point to finish. As you will know, the LFP have introduced new kick off times this season to comply with the demands of television, meaning we now have some games starting at the ridiculous time of 11 pm. This week, however, they have gone for an even more stupid formula in an attempt to cram games in, and decided that Real Madrid’s match at home to Granada will start at 7.50 pm (one hour and forty minutes before our game begins). Now, picture the scene: bar anywhere in Spain (or in the world), one TV, some Madrid fans want to see the end of their game, some Barça fans want to see start of their game. You don’t need much of a brain to see that some poor bar owners are not going to be able to keep all their customers happy.
Possible starting XIs.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Fabregas, Song, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Valencia: Diego Alves; Pereira, Rami, Ruiz, Cissoko; T. Costa, Gago; Feghouli, Jonas, Mathieu; Soldado.
My prediction: Barça 3 Valencia 1