League action returns to Camp Nou tomorrow as top-of-the-table Barça take on relegation threatened Mallorca (Saturday 10 pm kick off). It will be Tito Vilanova’s first home game in charge since returning from his two-month stay in New York, and there could also be an extra-special bumper bonus with a possible return to the team of Eric Abidal, more than 13 months since his last first team appearance.
Javier Mascherano’s recent ligament injury has added to our woes in defence and it would seem a perfect time for Abidal to return. Vilanova has to decide on who partners Gerard Piqué in central defence in the Champions League quarter-final second leg with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. The number one candidate is probably Adriano who along with new-daddy Pedro returned to normal training with the group today. Marc Bartrá is the other main option though it would certainly do no harm to have Abidal in contention, and for this he needs to get some playing time.
Given Barça’s 13-point lead in La Liga over second-placed Real Madrid, the importance of the PSG game and the relative weakness of Mallorca, it would seem logical for Barça to reserve as many players as possible for Wednesday night. Of course La Liga is important and tomorrow’s game requires the necessary seriousness and preparation, but for me this is one occasion when Vilanova should think of his lineup against PSG first and then plan his Mallorca XI accordingly.
If Pedro, Adriano and Leo Messi are declared fit to play on Wednesday then we may see a starting XI against PSG of Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Adriano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi and Villa/Alexis. With this is mind, and taking into account that the only Barça B players training with the first team today were Oier Olazábal and Gerard Deulofeu, then the team for Mallorca tomorrow could be Pinto, Montoya, Bartrá, Piqué, Abidal, Thiago, Song, Fabregas, Deulofeu, Alexis and Tello. I would like to be able to rest Piqué too, but the different combination all involve putting in another PSG starter such as Alves, Alba or Busquets. Marc Muniesa trained with the first team on Thursday and I can only ask why he wasn’t included in the group today.
Mallorca have been suffering a very poor season, and after 16 consecutive seasons in the top flight they are facing a dogfight to avoid the drop. When Barça won 2-4 at Mallorca back in November our opponents were in 15th place on 11 points from 11 games. Since then, in 19 games they have only managed 13 points, though seven of those points have come in the last seven games, since Gregorio Manzano took over from Joaquin Caparrós on February 5, suggesting a slight improvement. Three weeks ago they led 1-2 at half time at the Bernabeu before caving in during the second half to lose 5-2 and then in their last game they lost 2-3 at home to bottom-of-the-table Deportivo. Everything suggests they can score quite easily though they obviously have problems with a leaky defence. The game should also mean a return to Camp Nou for ex-blaugrana Giovani dos Santos who could make his first appearance against Barça since leaving the club in 2008.
With Leo Messi’s absence the game obviously loses its main attraction. However, it promises to be an open entertaining game and the possibility of seeing Deulofeu and especially Abidal should add to the interest. I’m going for a high scoring win for Barça.
Barça: Pinto; Montoya, Bartrá, Piqué, Abidal; Thiago, Song, Fabregas; Deulofeu, Alexis, Tello.
Mallorca: Aouate; Hutton, Nunes, Geromel, Luna; Tissone, Martí, Pina; Giovani, Victor, Alfaro.
Prediction: Barça 4 Mallorca 2
Date: Saturday 6 April 2013. Kick off: 10 pm local time.