Tito Vilanova is taking Barça’s first leg Copa del Rey game at Cordoba tomorrow very seriously, naming a strong 19-man squad for the trip that includes record-man Leo Messi. The only B-team players included in the list are keeper Oier Olazabal and Cristian Tello while the only first-teamers rested are Valdés, Adriano and Iniesta. Cesc Fabregas is of course now on the injured list, but there is good news that Carles Puyol is ok and he is included for the game as is Marc Bartrá who is named in a squad for the first time since pulling a muscle in training on November 18.
There will be some debate no doubt about the wisdom or not of resting more players, especially as Barça face a vital league game on Sunday against Atlético Madrid. This is always a tough decision for a coach though some may say he is being slightly over-cautious. Cordoba are currently 11th in the Segunda A with 23 points from 17 games but they proved they are no mugs when they beat a Barça B team which included Rafinha, Deulofeu, Planas and Grimaldo by two goals to one at the start of October. Vilanova knows this is a tougher tie the the previous one against Alaves and he probably feels it is better to get a good result in the first game and then be able to rest players for the return match at Camp Nou in January. He has been able to rest players in the recent games with Alaves and Benfica so perhaps he feels there are few players who really need a break right now. It is also true that it is better to keep the team on a winning roll to ensure there is no drop in confidence.
It still seems likely that there will be quite a few changes to the team that won so dramatically at Betis on Sunday. Pinto will no doubt start in goal while at right back we could see either Alves or Montoya. It seems likely that Tito will again play Adriano and Alba as full backs against Atlético so there is a good case to see Alves at right back tomorrow, hopefully he can start finding his rhythm, with Montoya getting another chance on the left. With Mascherano’s drop in form since his mistake at the Bernabeu in the Supercopa the preferred pairing of centre backs has become Piqué and Puyol (when fit). It seems likely that this will be Tito’s choice for Sunday, meaning he could play Bartra and Mascherano at Cordoba. Following the same line of thought for midfield with Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta most likely to start on Sunday, we might expect tomorrow to see Thiago, Song and Dos Santos. The main problem for Tito is to decide who to put in on Sunday to replace Fabregas. Against Betis he surprised by bringing on Alexis rather that Villa or Thiago. With Pedro and Messi likely to start on the bench tomorrow we could see both Alexis and Villa up front with Tello where they will all try to impress to win the spare place against Atlético.
Cordoba have reached this stage of the competition after knocking out Elche, Sabadell and Real Sociedad. I see little danger of Barça getting eliminated though there is always the chance of some Alcorcón egg on your face. However, with Vilanova taking things seriously I imagine we will win tomorrow. It is a good chance to check the attitude of the underused players and may be an indicator, besides all the fantastic results, of how well he is running the ship.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Pinto, Oier, Montoya, Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Puyol, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Dos Santos, Thiago, Pedro, Tello, Messi, Alexis, Villa.
Possible starting XIs:
Cordoba: Alberto Garcia; Fernandez, Alberto Aguilar, Kiko Olivas, Fuentes; Pedro, Lopez Garai, Caballero, Dubarbier; Fede Vico, Rennella.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Montoya; Dos Santos, Song, Thiago; Tello, Alexis, Villa.
Prediction: Cordoba 1 Barça 3
Date: Wednesday 12 December 2012. Kick off: 8 pm (local time)