Saturday night is firmly booked for football this weekend with two massive games served up in La Liga. At 8 pm Barça play host to Bilbao´s Athletic Club and the game will be immediately followed at 10 pm by the Madrid-Atlético derby.
As Tito Vilanova rightly said earlier this week: ‘if Barça win then any result in the Madrid derby is a good one’. Barça are in a good moment. Messi and Iniesta are both on form which is fitting for Ballon d’Or finalists and both players must strike fear into opposing defenders, while David Villa has been finding the net with his old regularity. With Piqué and Puyol back our defence has looked more solid in recent games while Valdés seems to have got over his early season wobbles. We also have Thiago back to add to the mix going forward.
With all the recent talk about La Masia after we fielded 11 homegrown players for an hour at Levante, I feel it’s worth pointing out that since Busquets and Pedro established themselves as first-team regulars nobody has made the leap from the B team to being a first-choice regular in the team. This is not a complaint, just an indication of how tough the final step up can be. Thiago has come the closest but with competition for a place from Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas he knows he will need to continue developing and learning to be considered first-choice player. We’ll see how far the likes of Montoya, Bartrá, Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Cuenca, Tello and Deulofeu make it. They certainly have the talent for long professional careers but for my money the best two prospects are the Alcántara brothers Thiago and Rafinha.
Back to tommorrow’s game. Bielsa’s Athletic have been having a rough time this season’s after the success of the Argentine coach’s first term in charge. Losing Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich was a big blow for the Basques and they are struggling in 14th place in the table on 15 points. Bielsa has a problem in defence after right back Andoni Iraola pulled a muscle in training yesterday. There is the option of playing 19-year-old Jonas Ramalho or of restructuring the team with De Marcos moving to right back, Muniain moving back to midfield and Ibai coming in on the left wing. Aritz Aduriz who has scored 11 goals in 18 games this season should return after suspension in place of the out-of-favour Fernando Llorente.
The game shouldn’t be too different from Barça’s 2-0 victory in last season’s fixture in April with one-on-one battles all over the pitch as both teams try to outpress each other. Games between the two teams are always a great spectacle and tomorrow shouldn’t be any different. Messi will make his 350th Barça appearance and we will all be hoping he can get on the scoresheet with just three more goals needed to equal Gerd Muller’s record. However, the most important thing is that Barça win as we can then sit back and enjoy the derby. Personally, it will be a bit complicated to follow the game as I will be writing up my match report for Barça. However, I will be cheering on for a draw and if not then an Atlético victory.
Possible starting lineups:
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Athletic: Iraizoz; Ramalho, Ekiza, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe; Herrera, Iturraspe, De Marcos; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain.
Prediction: Barça 4 Athletic 0
Date: Saturday 1 December 2012. Kick off 8 pm local time.