A victory over Real Sociedad tomorrow evening (Tuesday 8 pm) will see Tata Martino’s team equal Barça’s best ever start to the season of six straight league wins, previously achieved with Louis van Gaal in charge in 1997/98, Pep Guardiola in 2009/10 and Tito Vilanova last season. Martino has named a 19-man squad for the game with Sergio Busquets returning to the list while Cesc Fabregas has been rested for the game.
With the intention of having players as fresh as possible in the spring, Martino’s rotations should be seen as a positive thing. By making changes every game the coach keeps the players more competitive, there is no first-choice once de gala yet and it is probably better that Martino forms his idea of a best XI as the season progresses. However, the rotations also mean that the players will need more time to adapt to Martino’s adjustments, and there is still a fair bit of confusion to Barça’s play so far this season.
Some sources have claimed that in the 0-4 win at Rayo on Saturday Barça had less possession than their opponent for the first time since May 2007. While I would much rather win a game with less possession than lose one with more, there is a slight worry that Barça could be losing a bit of panache and style. Of course, it may be fair to say that our tiki-taka brand of football was becoming predictable, and now with Martino we have regained the element of surprise. The results so far have proved positive but we will have to wait and see how things develop over the season to judge our new coach’s effectiveness.
Tomorrow’s game will be Barça fourth in the space of eleven days. It seems likely that Alves, Busquets and Iniesta will return to the lineup in place of Montoya, Song and Fabregas, while the main doubt will probably be which three to play up front. Alexis was rested against Rayo and seems likely to return, Neymar and Messi are both in good form and Pedro bagged his first Barça hat-trick on Saturday. My bet is that Martino will rest the Brazilian and start with Pedro, Messi and Alexis.
Real Sociedad will also be playing their fourth game in eleven days. While sharing the best defensive record in La Liga with Espanyol (3 goals conceded in five games), Real’s problems appear to be in attack as they have failed to score in each of the last three games. Last season under French coach Philippe Montanier the Basque side surprised everybody by finishing fourth and qualifying for this season’s Champions League. Montanier departed this summer to be replaced by his number two Jagoba Arrasate but compared to many other clubs there is a sense of continuity to Real’s squad. Of course, Asier Illarramende moved to Real Madrid for €32 million but the core of the team that beat Barça 3-2 at Anoeta in the last meeting between the clubs in January remains the same. One new player who looks likely to start is the 21-year-old Swiss striker Haris Seferović who signed from Fiorentina €3 million. Seferovic scored in his first two official games for Real including this corker against Olympique Lyon in the Champions League but since then he has failed to find the net in his last five appearances.
Barça may have had problems in recent visits to San Sebastián but the story in Barcelona is quite different with Barça winning the last 15 league games between the sides at Camp Nou. Last season’s corresponding fixture took place on the first weekend of the season with Tito Vilanova’s Barça debuting with a 5-1 win thanks to goals from Puyol, Messi (2), Pedro and David Villa. Considering Real’s defensive record this season goals may be more difficult to find in tomorrow’s encounter.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano, Song, Busquets, Dos Santos, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting teams:
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
Real Sociedad: Bravo; Carlos Martinez, Mikel Gonzalez, Iñigo Martinez, De La Bella; Markel Bergara, Ruben Pardo; Carlos Vela, Xavi Prieto, Griezmann; Seferović.
Prediction: Barça 2 Real Sociedad 0
Date: Tuesday 24 September 2013. Kick off 8 pm local time.