Shock waves are still reverberating in Barcelona after the humbling 4-0 defeat in Munich. However, attention turns back to La Liga as Barça travel to Bilbao for our last ever game at San Mames against Athletic Club tomorrow evening (Saturday 6 pm). A victory for Barça followed by a defeat for Real Madrid, who play at 8 pm at Atlético, would clinch Barça’s 22nd Liga title.
Today’s big news was the reappearance of Tito Vilanova in his first press conference since January. Vilanova confirmed that he intends to continue next season while stating that he feels stronger every day and has never thought about leaving. I admit that I had my doubts after Tuesday’s performance and these doubts are basically to do with the team’s level of motivation and hunger. If Vilanova does continue then I feel it would be a good idea to consider a new number two. I have no intention of devaluing the work done by Jordi Roura, especially under the difficult circumstances of this season, however, I feel we need a stronger personality who is capable of giving the players a kick up the backside when they need it. Remember the difference of Rijkaard’s team when Ten Cate was his assistant compared to Neeskens. In this sense I’d love to see Luis Enrique brought in as Tito’s assistant but I get the feeling that it’s unlikely and that the coaching staff will remain the same.
There will be plenty more time to analyse problems and discuss plans for next season but right now we still have a league to win and a return game with Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Overcoming a first leg score of 4-0 is obviously an enormous task but while we still have 90 minutes to play we must give it everything we’ve got to try and pull off the comeback.
For this reason we should expect to see lots of players rested tomorrow. Vilanova has named 20 players for the trip with the absence of Sergio Busquets who continues to suffer a pelvic problem but it is difficult to understand why there is no call up for any Barça B player. Given the task in hand on Wednesday and the lack of available defenders it might be a good idea to consider the defence of three against Bayern which could give us the possibility of playing Messi behind a front three of Pedro, Villa and Tello. However, if we wanted to rest all these players we should surely have brought in Deulofeu tomorrow. As it is we can expect to see a defence with Montoya, Bartrá, Abidal and Alba, a possible midfield of Thiago, Song and Dos Santos and perhaps a front three of Alexis, Fabregas and Tello.
Our opponents Athletic have had a disappointing season and are currently 14th in the table on 36 points. Their coach ‘El loco’ Bielsa has struggled to repeat the heights of his first year in charge and the Basques are obviously missing the energy of Javi Martinez. For tomorrow’s game they will be without the suspended Ander Iturraspe which could see Carlos Gurpegi move into midfield with Mikel San José coming into the defence.
There seems to be an attempt in some quarters to devalue this season’s Liga, as if Barça are somehow going to win it by default. This idea is of course absurd as we have been up against two very strong rivals in Real Madrid and Atlético. If Barça clinch the title it will be our fourth Liga in the last five seasons which will be a magnificent achievement especially if we consider the amount of money spent by Florentino Perez in this time. Put the champagne on ice my fellow culés, whether it’s tomorrow, next weekend or the week after that, this league deserves a proper celebration.
Barça’s 20-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Abidal, Adriano, Alba, Song, Dos Santos, Thiago, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Messi, Alexis, Villa, Tello.
Athletic: Iraizoz; Iraola, San José, Ekiza, Aurtenetxe; Gurpegui, De Marcos, Herrera; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain.
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Bartrá, Abidal, Alba; Thiago, Song, Dos Santos; Alexis, Fabregas, Tello.
Prediction: Athletic 1 Barça 2
Date: Saturday 27 April 2013. Kick off 6 pm local time.