Just three days after meeting in La Liga Barça take on Malaga in the Copa del Rey with a semi-final against Real Madrid or Valencia at stake. David Villa continues to suffer with a hamstring problem and will miss the game while he is also considered doubtful for Saturday’s match at Real Sociedad.
In today’s lunchtime press conference Tito Vilanova indicated that he would give equal importance to the games with Malaga as the Real Sociedad match. There will probably be changes to Sunday’s team but it is more likely to be in three or four positions rather than six or seven. Pinto will no doubt be in for the cup while Puyol seems likely to return in defence. Adriano could be an option for either of the full back positions and with the good form being shown by Thiago it would be no surprise if he came in to give one of our midfield maestros a rest. Vilanova also has the possibility of starting either Alexis Sanchez or Cristian Tello but I expect to see a continuation of the Pedro-Messi-Iniesta front line.
There were a couple of other interesting points from the press conference. In an attempt by the press to get Vilanova to say that Real Madrid were out of the title race he was asked how he would see things if it were the other way round and Barça were 18 points adrift of their great rival. Vilanova’s reply that ‘I wouldn’t be here answering your question if Barça were 18 points behind’ was probably just a truthful reflection though it could be cheekily interpreted to mean he believes Mourinho should be sacked. The press also tried to get a hint on Pep Guardiola’s planned destination for next season but Vilanova would not be drawn saying only that ‘it’s great news, the best coach in football should be working in the game’.
For tomorrow’s game we can expect to see the same approach from Malaga. Manuel Pelligrini is a coach who stays firm to his ideas so we can expect to see our opponents try to push up the pitch when they can. With a strong squad at his disposal, Pelligrini is also likely to make some adjustments to his starting XI. Players like Manuel Iturra, Jesus Gamez, Francisco Portillo, Diego Buonanotte or ex-blaugrana Javier Saviola could all be in line to start while ex-Espanyol goalie Carlos Kameni has been Malaga’s keeper in the cup so far this season.
On present form it seems unthinkable that Barça can lose a game. However, Malaga will be a tough opponent again and we will need to be close to our best. The players have complained about the ball used in this year’s Copa so hopefully that won’t be a problem tomorrow. Losing this tie would be a big reversal at this point of the season and we need to keep the positive momentum. Before the match Leo Messi will present his latest Ballon d’Or to the Camp Nou crowd, let’s hope the team offer a fitting display to go with it and a decent advantage to take to La Rosaleda for next Wednesday’s second leg.
Barça: Pinto; Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Malaga: Kameni; Gamez, Demichelis, Weligton, Monreal; Camacho, Iturra; Portillo, Isco, Buonanotte; Saviola.
Prediction: Barça 2 Malaga 0
Date: Wednesday 16 January 2013. Kick off: 9.30 pm