Leo Messi trained normally with the group this morning and will be available for Barça’s league game at home to Osasuna tomorrow (Sunday 7 pm). The team will train again tomorrow morning at Camp Nou before Jordi Roura decides which players are in best shape for the job, while no doubt keeping in mind the coming challenge of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final at Real Madrid.
Team selection is a complicated business in a situation like this. Everybody knows La Liga is more important than La Copa and after dropping three points at Real Sociedad last week we definitely don’t want to lose any more points tomorrow. At the same time it is fair to say that our lead of eight points over Atlético and fifteen over Madrid still allows us some margin of error.
In this lunchtime’s press conference Jordi Roura gave few clues, saying: ‘However important the Madrid game may be, La Liga is an important title for us. We’ll take each game as it comes’. The credo of ‘take-every-game-as-it-comes’ is all very well but there are undoubtedly times that a look at the calendar is inevitable. The relative ease of a home game against Osasuna and the difficulty of a visit to the Bernabéu will surely be taken into account. The tricky thing is to find the balance of guaranteeing a strong enough team to beat Osasuna while trying to keep as much in reserve as possible.
In defence we have more solid options for rotations and with Piqué suspended it seems likely that Adriano and Puyol will start after being substitutes at Malaga on Thursday, while there could also be a chance for either Montoya or Bartrá. Thiago Alcántara and Alex Song offer options in midfield while up front we have the possibility of Tello or Alexis, but surely this must be a game for David Villa. Rumours of a €12 million bid from Arsenal for the striker are insulting, but if he continues to be sidelined it would be no surprise if a player of his quality looked for a move in the search for more playing time.
Curiously, Barça played Osasuna three days before our last trip to the Bernabéu. Back in August we visited the Reyno Navarra before the Supercopa return game in Madrid. Tito Vilanova rested Xavi and Pedro with an eye on the clásico and Barça put in a poor performance and only won 1-2 thanks to two late goals from Leo Messi.
However, Osasuna have always been much more dangerous playing at home in Pamplona. This season their travels have reaped only five points of their total of eighteen which sees them struggling in the relegation zone. Their strength is undoubtedly in defence. Goalkeeper Andrés Fernández is one of the (many) names mentioned as a possible future substitute for Victor Valdés. Quite remarkably, despite Osasuna’s lowly position Fernández has only conceded 21 goals in 20 league games this season which gives our opponents a better defensive record than Barça (23 goals conceded). For the trip to Barcelona coach Jose Luis Mendilibar will be without the suspended Damiá Abella, the injured Asier Riesgo, David Timor and Sisi, while Anthony Annan is at the African cup. The Argentinian Emiliano Armenteros suffered muscular problems in training this morning and is likely to miss out.
Tomorrow’s game is the first at Camp Nou since Valdés announced he would not continue at the club when his contract expires in June 2014. There may be some divided opinion about our keeper but after nineteen trophies, five Zamoras and more than 500 games for the club I hope he is shown respect by the crowd. The paying public is entitled to its opinion but any negative vibes may have an unwanted effect on the whole team. Last season we won the corresponding fixture 8-0. It will be difficult to repeat that tomorrow but I’m expecting us to at least take all three points.
Barça: Valdés; Adriano, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba; Thiago, Song, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Villa.
Osasuna: Andrés Fernández; Marc Bertrán, Ruben, Arribas, Nano; Puñal, Lolo; Cejudo, Nino, De las Cuevas; Kike Sola.
Prediction: Barça 3 Osasuna 1
Date: Sunday 27 January 2013. Kick off: 7 pm local time.