Barça return to action with a league game versus Zaragoza at Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Saturday 8 pm local time) with the intention of extending the record breaking start to the season. After 11 games Tito Vilanova’s team have notched up ten victories and a draw while building up a lead of three points over second placed Atlético Madrid and eight points over third placed Real Madrid.
The international break or Fifa Virus has left Barça without Alexis Sanchez for four weeks but on the positive side Puyol looks ready to return which should hopefully see an end to the problems we have faced at the back in recent weeks. All the international players went through a mild training session yesterday evening with the exception of Messi and Villa who worked out in the gym, and Alves who didn’t get back in time. The players will go through a final training session this afternoon to prepare for the match.
In contrast to Barça, Zaragoza only had two players, the Rumanian right back Ionut Sapunaru who is suspended tomorrow and Jose Mari, away on international duty this week. This may have given our opponents an advantage in preparing the match but it also demonstrates the gulf between the two squads. In fact, since Zaragoza returned to the top flight in the summer of 2009 we have faced the Aragonese team six times and won all six, scoring 21 goals in the process while only conceding four. Curiously, last season’s Camp Nou game between the sides was played on the same weekend midway through November, also following an international break and before a Champions League away trip. Pep Guardiola started with Iniesta, Pedro, Villa, Busquets, Mascherano and Abidal on the bench that day but Barça still ran out 4-0 winners before going to the San Siro the following week to beat AC Milan 2-3.
This time we have the long trip to Moscow to take on Spartak on Tuesday so it would be no surprise if Vilanova wants to reserve a player or two. Victor Valdés should start in goal despite the recent birth of his second child. In defence it will probably be Alves, Piqué, Mascherano and Alba. Busquets is suspended so we will probably see Alex Song given another start in midfield, leaving the usual dilemma of who out of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas sits out. I have a feeling Tello will get another chance on the left probably with Messi and Pedro as the other two strikers.
Despite our recent record against Zaragoza we should not underestimate our opponents. Since ex-Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez took over the team midway through last season there has been a vast improvement. The achievement to survive relegation after being 15 points adrift was quite remarkable and despite a slow start to the 2012/13 campaign an improvement has been seen in recent weeks with four wins in their last five games including last week’s thrilling 5-3 win over Deportivo after being 0-2 down.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Song, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Tello.
Zaragoza: Roberto; Raul Goni, Loovens, Alvaro, Abraham; Movilla, Jose Mari; Victor Rodriguez, Apoño, Paco Montañez; Helder Postiga.
My prediction: Barça 3 Zaragoza 1