It’s back to action after the interlull with Barça facing seven matches in La Liga and the Champions League in the space of 22 days, starting with tomorrow evening’s league fixture against Sevilla at Camp Nou (Saturday 8 pm). Carles Puyol returned to training with the group today and seems close to receiving the green light to play though he has not been included in Tata Martino’s list of 20 players for the game.
Martino has decided to leave out Pedro for tomorrow’s match which continues the Argentinian coach’s policy of minor rotations that we have seen so far this season. Judging from the decision to name 20 players, it seems that Martino is keen to keep the younger players as involved as possible. There have been few chances so far for the likes of Tello, Sergi Roberto, Dos Santos, Bartrá and Montoya, but with the heavy fixture load in the next three weeks it will be interesting to see how much confidence Martino has in these players.
The news of Puyol’s imminent return will obviously be a boost for the team. However, Barça’s weakness in the back-up for central defence were revealed this week when Adriano admitted that Martino had already played him in that position in training. A look at Puyol’s recent history shows that over the last three seasons and the beginning of this one, our captain has appeared in under 50% of the games (93 appearances in Barça’s last 189 games). Last season he only managed 22 games and given that he is not getting any younger we would need to be optimistic to expect him to play in more than 30 this time round. This could mean that for half the season our only back-up for Piqué and Mascherano is Bartrá and Adriano. Today’s El Sport headlined with the story of the possibility of signing Fernando Llorente from Juventus on the cheap during the winter transfer window; this may all be very well but Barça’s need for a new centre-back right now is somewhat greater than the need for a Plan B striker.
With the first game of this season’s Champions League coming up on Wednesday with Ajax’s visit to Camp Nou, it is difficult to predict the team that Martino might pick to face Sevilla. Alves and Busquets are fit again after minor injuries but Martino could decide to reserve them for Wednesday. Montoya or Adriano could take Alves’s position at right back, while Song might get another chance in place of Busquets. There could be a first start for Cristian Tello if Martino wants to rest one of his South American strikers, and who knows? – there could even be a chance for Marc Bartrá in defence though this seems less likely as both Piqué and Mascherano missed international duty due to suspension. All in all, however, I don’t expect Martino to make many major changes to the team and the coach’s main doubt will again be which two to play from Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas in midfield.
Our opponents Sevilla are yet another team who have sold big and spent little this summer, with roughly €90 million’s worth of players going out and only €32 million worth coming in. Stars such as Álvaro Negredo (€25 million Man City), Jesus Navas (€20 million Man City) and Gary Medel (€13 million Cardiff) have left for the English Premier League, while the most expensive replacements, Kevin Gameiro (€8 million Paris SG), Carlos Bacca (€7 million Club Bruges) and Vicente Iborra (€6 million Levante), don’t quite look in the same class. However, they have a couple of interesting on-loan players in Marko Marin from Chelsea and Denis Cheryshev from Real Madrid who could prove useful.
Having finished ninth last season and crept into the Europa League through the back door, Unai Emery remains in charge of the Andalusian team but so far this season they have failed to win a game and are currently fifteenth in the table on just two points. Emery’s woes won’t be helped by the knowledge that he has still never coached a team to a victory over Barça, while the loss of Diego Perotti who injured a calf muscle this week will only make the task tomorrow more difficult.
In last season’s corresponding fixture Barça came from behind to win 2-1 with goals from David Villa and Leo Messi. This season I’m expecting a bigger win for Barça.
Barça’s 20-man squad:
Valdes, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Song, Xavi, Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting teams:
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Neymar.
Sevilla: Beto; Coke, Cala, Fernando Navarro, Alberto Moreno; Iborra, M’bia; Rakitic; Marin, Vitolo; Gameiro.
Prediction: Barça 3 Sevilla 0
Date: Saturday 14 September 2013. Kick off: 8 pm local time.