With the fallout from Wednesday’s cup clásico still making the headlines Barça return to Liga action tomorrow evening with a trip down the coast for a complicated game against Valencia at Mestalla (Sunday 7 pm). After Atlético Madrid’s defeat at San Mames last weekend Barça’s lead over Los Colchoneros at the top of the table has returned to eleven points while Real Madrid remain fifteen points adrift in third place.
Before moving on to tomorrow’s game I should comment on the some of the post-clásico accusations and what may become known as Messigate or Bobogate. The original source-less accusation that Messi called Arbeloa “bobo” (dunce/dumbass) in front of his wife in the Bernabéu carpark before turning on Karanka to say “What the **** are you looking at, Mourinho’s puppet” were yesterday confirmed by Madrid’s Deep Throat José Callejon.
Now obviously there are two possibilities here: either it is true or it isn’t. If it is all made up as an attempt to somehow destabilize Messi then it is a pretty pathetic attempt, though it would follow the line of the few poor souls in Madrid who seem to think that if they all say “Cristiano is better than Messi” enough times then it will somehow turn into reality. On the other hand, if the accusations are true then there is probably a very strong case for the reintroduction of the death penalty.
Unfortunately some of our players also made post-match comments with Xavi, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves referring to refereeing decisions and particular fouls. All of this would be best left to others as between one thing and another Alves’s legitimate complaint about racist chanting just got mixed in with all the other mudslinging.
Back to tomorrow’s game. Valencia have been having a poor season by their standards though there has been a notable improvement since Ernesto Valverde took over from Mauricio Pelligrino at the start of December. Pelligrino was brought in last summer to replace Unai Emery but he was sacked after the 2-5 defeat at home to Real Sociedad which left Valencia in twelfth place in La Liga after 14 games. Valverde was considered for the Barça job in 2008 before Laporta’s board opted for Guardiola, and he has done a good job so far at Valencia who have moved up to seventh place now despite their recent 0-5 defeat to Madrid. The announcement this week from captain David Albelda that he is 95% sure that he will leave at the end of the season may have its repercussions though the fact that Albelda will turn 36 at the start of next season will no doubt soften the blow. This was followed by a report that Ever Banega turned up drunk for training yesterday – I’m not sure about the truth of this one, but Banega’s been playing most weeks in the starting XI so if he’s missing on Sunday this will no doubt be the reason.
Jordi Roura has named a 19-man squad for tomorrow’s game with Martin Montoya included but with no place for Johnathan Dos Santos, Marc Bartrá or Cristian Tello. Barça are unlikely to make too many changes to the team that drew in Madrid. The fact that we have no midweek games for the next couple of weeks should mean we have no need to reserve players. Of course there are international games this week with Valdés, Piqué, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro and Villa all called up for Spain’s friendly against Uruguay in Qatar, but hopefully Vicente del Bosque will not overdo the number of minutes from the Barça group.
With Valdés returning in goal, the only other changes that seem likely tomorrow are the possible inclusion of Mascherano and Adriano in the defence while there could be a start in attack for either David Villa or Alexis Sanchez. Without wishing to start another Villa-Alexis debate as personally I like both players, I think it’s fair to say that considering his Valencia past Villa should be particularly motivated for this one.
Early in the season we beat Valencia 1-0 at Camp Nou thanks to a first-half strike from Adriano. Curiously, that game was played just after a transfer window closed so a quick mention on the relatively minor movement at Can Barça this week in this respect. First, the loan move of Isaac Cuenca to Ajax until the end of the season seems a very wise decision. I like Cuenca a lot and last season I definitely considered him a bigger promise than Tello when they came through around the same time. Following his injury he would have found it very difficult to get a game up front considering all our other options so hopefully he can find his form playing every week in the Dutch league. The other decision was to resign Marc Muniesa with Barça B which will now allow him to return to action for Eusebio Sacristan. Again, an intelligent decision, though it does bring into question the decision last year to promote him to the first team. As with Dos Santos, or Andreu Fontas last season, it seems pointless to give players first team contracts if they are hardly going to play.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Villa.
Possible starting XIs
Valencia: Diego Alves; Pereira, Rami, Victor Ruiz, Guardado; Albelda, Tino Costa; Canales, Banega, Piatti; Soldado.
Barça: Valdés; Adriano, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Prediction: Valencia 1 Barça 2
Date: Sunday 3 February 2013. Kick off: 7 pm (local time)