After four years of almost non-stop success Barça have taken a number of blows in the last few weeks to remind us that success in football is neither easy nor guaranteed. Results on the field are one thing but we seem to be getting hit in a number of painful ways in other areas. Obviously the most important of these is the situation with first team coach Tito Vilanova and there is little we can do except hope for his speedy recovery. Besides that we have recently suffered a Fifa block on six foreign players, including the brilliant 15-year-old Korean Lee Seung Woo, from playing in our junior teams. I don’t know too much about the laws on signing young players but it seems Barça are only as guilty as many other top clubs, and the Fifa decision seems to have come after two clubs, reported to be Valencia and Celta, denounced Barça’s situation.
Our youth sections have also been hit by two of our most promising prospects, Alejandro Grimaldo and Sandro Ramirez, suffering knee injuries which has sidelined the pair for the rest of the season. Grimaldo’s ligament injury is particularly nasty and following his operation last Saturday the initial estimates say he will need seven months to recover. If you add to this the possible fine for the flare that was let off at the recent cup game with Madrid and Victor Valdés’s four match ban for his strop at the Bernabéu it has been a pretty miserable time at Can Barça. Some of us were hoping to gain a bit of schadenfreudian joy from a game in Manchester this week but a Turkish referee put an end to that. I couldn’t help recalling Mourinho famous rant at referees: ¿Por qué Undiano Mallenco? Por qué Pérez Lasa? Por qué Cüneyt Çakır?
With morale at a low ebb we now face two games in four days at Camp Nou against Deportivo de La Coruña and AC Milan. Given our eleven point lead at the top of La Liga, the two-goal deficit we need to overcome in the Champions League and the relative difficulty of the games, it would surely be wise to give priority to the Champions League and simply use the Deportivo game as preparation. In this sense I am hoping we rest as many players as possible tomorrow. I know we have not had a midweek game this week but we want to have our key men as fresh as daisies to face Milan. At the same stage of the Champions League last season Leo Messi scored five in the 7-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen just days after being forced to miss the game with Sporting Gijon through suspension. I don’t care whether he feels he can play every game, in this case Messi should be kept straining at the leash, or perhaps even put in a straightjacket and tied to a bed until Tuesday.
It’s fair to say that when we were forced to field a weaker team at Riazor earlier in the season the result could have gone either way, though ten-man Barça held out for a thrilling 4-5 victory. Of course, a victory tomorrow is the best possible way to prepare for Milan, but Depor are bottom of La Liga without an away victory all season, and tomorrow they will be without their top scorer Riki. Surely we can still beat them with a second string XI. Besides Messi, there should at most only be a place on the bench for the likes of Iniesta, Busquets, Piqué, Puyol and Jordi Alba.
Our situation isn’t helped by Xavi being in a race to get fit for Tuesday or by Marc Bartra picking up an untimely injury. Bartra would have been perfect for tomorrow’s game but perhaps now in order to keep Puyol and Piqué rested we will finally see a return for Eric Abidal to partner Mascherano in defence. The other logical thing would have been to recall Marc Muniesa to the first team but the only B team player training with the first team has been Jordi Masip who will be our substitute goalkeeper. So, I’m hoping we’ll get an emotional return for Abidal and a win to get us in the right mood for the big one on Tuesday night.
Barça: Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano; Thiago, Song, Fabregas; Alexis, Villa, Tello.
Depor: Aranzubia; Sílvio, Aythami, Insua, Ayoze; Paulo Assunçao, Abel Aguilar; Bruno Gama, Valerón, Pizzi; Nélson Oliveira.
Prediction: Barça 4 Deportivo 1
Date: Saturday 9 March 2013. Kick off: 8 pm local time.