After the last couple of days of concern over the recurrence of Tito Vilanova’s illness it is somewhat difficult to return to the everyday normality of another league fixture. However, with Jordi Roura temporarily in charge of the team, Barça travel to Valladolid for the last game before the Christmas break with Leo Messi getting one last chance to increase on the astonishing total of 90 goals scored this year.
Roura will take the final training session this afternoon at 5 pm before naming the squad for the trip. Adriano and Iniesta have both been working in the gym this week though both should travel and it seems unlikely there will be any surprises in the squad list though Roura’s team selection will be more interesting.
While a large part of the side generally picks itself, the positions of right back and left wing are more complicated. Last week, Adriano responded to being chosen at right back with a golazo and man-of-the-match performance against Atlético. However, he was forced to come off near the end with a hamstring problem and it may be more prudent to give Alves another chance tomorrow to try and get his form back.
After Cesc Fabregas’s injury, Vilanova opted to move Iniesta back to midfield while preferring Alexis over David Villa up front. With the Madrid press stirring up rumours about Villa not being happy, there is concern that we could lose him while he is still one of the best finishers in the game.
I feel sure Roura will be given the responsibility of picking the team and he will have to be his own man and choose the eleven who he sees in best shape. If he prefers Villa then it may well provoke a change in the player’s fortunes, though Roura may not want to change Vilanova’s original choice. Personally, I felt the team was playing best with Fabregas in midfield and Iniesta on the left, so I’d be happy with Thiago coming in as a straight replacement for Cesc with Iniesta continuing on the left where he combines so well with the overlapping Alba.
Tomorrow’s opponents Valladolid are back in the Primera División after two season. The ex-Valencia defender Miroslav Djukic took over as coach in July 2011 and in his first season the team finished third in the Segunda División and went on to win promotion in the play-offs. Many might have had the Pucelanos down as relegation favourites at the start of the season though they have been one of the revelations and are currently in 10th place on 22 points. Three weeks ago they defeated Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan (1-2) and then they nearly caused an upset the following week, twice taking the lead against Real Madrid before Ozil scored twice as Madrid came back to win (2-3).
There’s not a lot I can tell you about Valladolid’s team though ex-Barça boy Marc Valiente is now a regular in their defence. Valiente formed part of Barça’s famous Generación de 87 junior team with Messi, Piqué and Fabregas, though he left the club in July 2008 after making just one first team appearance in the Copa del Rey. Tomorrow, Valladolid will be without two key players, Jesús Rueda and Ebert, though Alberto Bueno has recovered from muscular problems and should be fit to start. I expect that, as against Madrid, Valladolid will give a very spirited performance and will attempt to attack us as much as possible.
We last faced Valladolid on 16 May 2010 when a 4-0 victory at Camp Nou earned us our second Liga title under Pep Guardiola and sent Valladolid down. Earlier in that season a 0-3 win at the José Zorrilla stadium earned us the distinction of becoming only the fifth team to go unbeaten for the first half of the season. This season we are well on the way to becoming the sixth team. Tomomorrow, I expect the team to go one step closer, while hopefully producing a performance worthy of dedicating to Tito. Another couple of goals from Messi would go nicely too.
Valladolid: Dani Hernandez; Rukavina, Sereno, Marc Valiente, Mikel Balenziaga; Victor Perez, Alvaro Rubio; Alberto Bueno, Oscar, Omar; Manucho.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
Prediction: Valladolid 0 Barça 3
Date: Saturday 22 December 2012. Kick off 6 pm (local time)