Jordi Roura has named 19 players for tomorrow’s Copa del Rey quarter final return match at Malaga with the principal novelty being the return of David Villa after his hamstring problems. Gerard Piqué is also in the list after becoming a father last night, and after last week’s 2-2 draw in the first leg at Camp Nou, Barça need a win or a very high score draw to set up a semi-final which, barring a miracle from Valencia tonight, will mean two more mouthwatering clásicos with Real Madrid.
Villa’s return gives us more options but the best news of the week was the medical clearance given to Isaac Cuenca after nearly eight months out with a knee injury. With a higher number of players in the squad it may become more complicated to keep everybody happy and for tomorrow’s game Cuenca, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartrá and Johnathan dos Santos have all been left at home. In Dos Santos’s case it would seem clear that he is surplus to requirements at the moment and it is difficult to understand why he doesn’t accept a loan offer for the rest of the season.
Having played Malaga twice in the last ten days there is not much more to say about our opponent though we have all seen the quality in their squad. Pelligrini will be without the injured Isco and the suspended Monreal, but there is the novelty in Malaga’s 18-man squad list of the 19-year-old Brazilian Lucas Piazon who signed on loan from Chelsea last week.
As Roura said in this lunchtime’s press conference this is our first ‘match-ball’ of the season, our first must-win game. Coming on the back of our first league defeat makes the challenge even greater. Roura expressed the need for intensity, while adding: ‘I’ve no doubt the team will react well’.
Before the defeat in San Sebastian many had considered that the title race in Spain was effectively over. While we still maintain a healthy advantage over Atlético and Real Madrid the main danger could only really be that we suffer a massive attack of the wobbles. The Copa and the possible tie against Madrid are motivation enough, but the most important need for a good result tomorrow is to dispel any seeds of doubt that may have appeared after the Real Sociedad game and the Valdés announcement last week. It’s time to get that positive momentum back.
Malaga: Caballero, Kameni, Jesús Gámez, Sergio Sánchez, Demichelis, Weligton, Onyewu, Elseu, Portillo, Camacho, Iturra, Joaquín, Duda, Buonanotte, Lucas Piazon, Santa Cruz, Saviola, Sebastián Fernández.
Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Tello, Villa, Messi.
Possible starting XIs:
Malaga: Kameni; Gamez, Demichelis, Weligton, Eliseu; Camacho, Iturra; Joaquin, Piazon, Buonanotte; Santa Cruz.
Barça: Pinto; Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
Prediction: Malaga 2 Barça 3
Date: Thursday 24 January 2013. Kick off: 10 pm.