Barça return to the Champions League tomorrow evening (6pm Spanish time) with the return game with Spartak Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium. Despite the defeat at Celtic two weeks ago Barça are still top of Group G on 9 points, though with Celtic on 7 points we will be looking for a good result in Moscow to either secure top spot or at least put us in the best possible position for when we play Benfica at Camp Nou in the final round of matches.
Anybody who believes that conquering Moscow will be easy would do well to take a look at the history books. Two hundred years ago Napoleon Bonaparte tried his luck with his Grand Armée, and despite being the ‘in-form side’ he faced a catastrophic defeat that completely changed the balance of power in Europe.
Things shouldn’t be quite so drastic for Tito Vilanova whatever happens tomorrow, though the Barça coach only has an ‘army’ of 21 players compared to the French Emperor’s total of 600,000 troops. Vilanova is without Marc Batrá who will be out for two to three weeks after pulling a muscle in training yesterday though with Piqué, Puyol and Mascherano all available we shouldn’t suffer as many problems at the back as we saw in the 3-2 win over Spartak back in September when Song came on for the injured Piqué. The best news is that we have Sergio Busquets back after suspension while Oier Olazabal, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Deulofeu from Barça B have all been included in the squad for the trip.
Barça’s 3-1 win over Zaragoza on Saturday was the first league game this season that we have started with Cesc Fabregas on the bench. Logic would suggest that Vilanova would find a place in the team for him tomorrow evening though his case won’t have been helped by the fact that he arrived at Moscow airport yesterday without the required visa, leading to a two-hour detention.
Despite giving us a fright at Camp Nou, Unai Emery’s Spartak are not in their best moment. Bottom of Group G on three points they are going to need a win tomorrow to stand any chance of qualifying for the last 16. In the Russian league things aren’t much better for our opponents, a 1-1 draw at Volga Nizhny on Saturday leaves them in fifth place after sixteen games, ten points behind leaders CSKA. They also reportedly have plenty of problems for tomorrow’s game with players like McGeady and Romulo, who both featured at Camp Nou, sidelined. However, their biggest problem could be in finding a goalkeeper with reports saying the Russians’ three first-choice keepers all with problems. Third choice Artem Rebrov was injured at the weekend joining Andriy Dykan and Sergei Pesyakov on the sidelines. There is little more than rumours about who might play in goal so we’ll just have to see who starts tomorrow.
The cold may well be the biggest problem for Barça with temperatures of around 0ºC expected, though Barça should be capable of clinching the win. I expect Vilanova will go for experience with Alves returning at right back while Pedro and Villa should continue up front. If we take the three points and then Celtic fail to win at Benfica then top spot in the group will be confirmed. Going into the game I am confident that this will be how things will pan out.
Barça’s 21-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Dos Santos, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa, Tello, Deulofeu.
Possible starting XIs:
Spartak: Pesyakov; K.Kombarov, Insaurralde, Suchý, D. Kombarov; Makkeev, R.Carioca, Källstrom, Jurado; Emenike, Ari.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Prediction: Spartak 0 Barça 2
Date: Tuesday 20th November 2012. Kick Off 6 pm Spanish time.