Another annoying autumn break for international matches is finally over as Barça return to action tomorrow night with a game against Deportivo de La Coruña at the Estadio Municipal de Riazor (kick off 10 pm local time).
Tito Vilanova will again have problems to form a defence. Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves are all unavailable along with Thiago, Cuenca, Abidal and Muniesa so Vilanova has named his 17 fit first team players including Johnathan dos Santos in the squad for the first time this season, as well as Cristian Tello who again travels with the first team.
The last time there was an international break Vilanova rested our South American players for the following match which we won won 1-4 at Getafe. Messi may well start on the bench tomorrow, giving another chance for Cesc Fabregas to play the ‘false nine’ role, though with the problems in defence Mascherano will probably start which would give us the defence of Montoya, Mascherano, Adriano and Alba that played the last hour against Madrid two weeks ago. However, if Tito wishes to reserve Mascherano (or Adriano) we could see any of Song, Bartrá or Busquets, who played centre back in Spain’s last two games, coming into the back line.
If the defence looks a bit dodgy, at least in midfield we should be able to field our classic triangle of Busquets, Xavi and the winner of Pepe’s personal Oscar award Andrés Iniesta. If Messi is rested, then up front it seems a toss-up between Cristian Tello and David Villa to partner Pedro and Fabregas. I hope that Villa is getting stronger with the weeks that pass and Tito considers he is in good enough shape to start.
Deportivo bounced straight back after a season down in La Segunda División, but despite a winning start against Osasuna on the opening day of this season they have only managed three draws followed by three defeats since then and they now sit third from bottom with just six points. Most of their team has changed since Barça’s last visit to Riazor in January 2011 when Villa, Messi, Iniesta and Pedro scored in a 0-4 victory. However, Dani Aranzubia is still in goal, while Manuel Pablo and Juan Carlos Valerón are both still going after what seems like several decades at the club. Of Depor’s new signings the most familiar is another old-timer, Carles Marchena, who played 69 times in Spain’s defence before Gerard Piqué came along to replace him.
Despite our problems in defence this really is a game we should win. Depor are a long way from the SuperDepor of the 1990s and early 2000s and we really don’t want to allow Madrid a chance to start reducing our 8-point advantage, while we also need to keep ahead of Atlético who would no doubt get a big boost if they could overtake us and go top at any point.
In other news this week I´m sure you have seen we have loaned out Andreu Fontás to Mallorca. Hopefully, he will get the playing time he needs to progress as he certainly has the talent to play in the Primera División. Whether he is good enough to be a regular for Barça remains to be seen but I feel he still needs to take his game up a notch. The time at Mallorca should do him good and I wish him all the best.
To get my fix of football last weekend I watched Barça B comfortably beat Sporting Gijon 3-0. It’s the fifth time I’ve seen Eusebio Sacristan’s team this season and I’ve been very impressed so far. The team has been strengthened by the signings of striker Luis Alberto who’s already grabbed four goals, and defender David Lombán, while the ‘star’ signings Sergio Araujo and Juan Ángel Román have had fewer opportunities, though Roman grabbed his first goal against Sporting last Saturday. You will all know Gerard Deulofeu who is top scorer with five goals and Thiago’s not-so-little brother Rafinha who is now appearing more regularly as an attacking midfielder. The youngest players in the team left back Alex Grimaldo and striker Jean-Marie Dongou both look to be excellent prospects. I’ve said before that Grimaldo reminds me of Sergi Barjuan our attacking full back of the 1990s while Dongou looks like a real penalty box killer.
I also got to watch the Spain-France World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night. Six Barça players started and despite Cesc’s missed penalty I thought they all did reasonably well. Of course there were four Real Madrid players for Spain as well, and while I don’t get too irritated by Casillas or Xavi Alonso, I really find Sergio Ramos too horrible to watch. How lucky was he to score after deciding to cover his eyes with his hands after his first awful miss? And then he celebrates as if he’s scored the goal of the season! For those of you who also take a dislike to old butterfingers you might like the following youtube clip (Hats off to Felix Baumgartner!)
Barça’s 18-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Dos Santos, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Villa, Alexis, Messi, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Depor: Aranzubia; Manuel Pablo, Aythami, Marchena, Evaldo; Bergantiños, Aguilar; Gama, Valeron, Pizzi; Riki.
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Fabregas, Tello.
My prediction: Depor 1 Barça 3
Date: Saturday 20 October 2012. Kick off 22:00h local time.