Barça face Valladolid at Camp Nou tomorrow night (Saturday 10 pm) with the intention of extending the record of victories at the start of the league season to eight wins out of eight. There is still no place in Tata Martino’s 18-man squad for Carles Puyol who continues in the final stages of his recuperation process while Leo Messi is still on the injured list along with Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Ibrahim Afellay and Isaac Cuenca.
There was a fair bit of debate going on before this week’s Champions League game at Celtic about whether Cesc Fabregas or Neymar Jr should take Messi’s role of leading the attack. I believe Martino got the decision right to choose Fabregas in Glasgow as Neymar didn’t need the pressure of the inevitable comparisons with Messi if he had been given the role in such an important game. Fabregas is not one to suffer too much from nerves and he repaid Martino’s confidence with the only goal of the game while Neymar used the space on the wing to scare Celtic with his speed. Having said that I would still like to see what Neymar can do from a central position and I think tomorrow’s game would be more suitable opportunity than Celtic Park for Martino to try the Brazilian in this position. The Barça coach may want to continue with Fabregas as ‘false 9’ but it would be useful to have other alternatives for when Messi is absent.
One of the most positive things this week has been the form of Marc Bartra against Almeria and Celtic, and he should start again tomorrow. I always had a lot of hope for Bartra when he was coming up through Barça B but his first season as a first team player was somewhat disappointing. The obvious problem for Bartra, as for the other first team youngsters Martin Montoya, Johnathan Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello, is that playing opportunities in a squad like Barça’s are likely to be scarce when everybody is fit. It is complicated for these players to come in, when they may not have played for weeks, and leave a good impression. Bartra deserves the praise he is receiving but when Puyol and Mascherano recover he is likely to find himself sidelined again and he will still have a tough job if he’s suddenly called into a big match later in the season.
I took the opportunity this week to watch Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in action at Manchester City. The Germans gave a superb performance of possession football and high pressing which has set the standards for this season’s Champions League. Barça have started very promisingly under Martino but if Bayern continue like this we will probably need to find another level if we are to beat Guardiola’s new team should we face them again in the knock-out stages.
Tomorrow’s opponents Valladolid are in their second season back in the top flight. Last season under coach Miloslav Djukic the Pucelanos survived relegation fairly comfortably, finishing seven points above the relegation zone in 14th place. Djukic moved on to take over as coach at Valencia this summer so Valladolid contracted Juan Ignacio Martinez who had previously done a pretty good job for two seasons at Levante. JIM’s Valladolid have started the 2013/14 campaign slowly and so far have only one victory (1-0 at home to Getafe) from their seven league games. Draws against Elche, Levante and Malaga take their total to six points which leaves them worryingly in 16th place in the table.
Valladolid’s problems this season have a lot to do with a bad run of luck of injuries, and with Martinez in charge I’d back them to finish higher in the table. For tomorrow’s game the Valladolid coach has needed to call up two youngsters from Valladolid’s B team, Alberto Gonzalez and Daniel Vadillo, to make up an 18-man squad. Alvaro Rubio, Victor Perez, Oscar Gonzalez, Lluis Sastre, Daniel Larsson and Manucho Contreiras are all out injured though Omar Ramos and Patrick Ebert have both recovered from slight injuries to make the trip. The German Ebert is probably Valladolid’s player to watch and he could cause problems from Valladolid’s right wing while Javi Guerra is a pretty useful forward as he showed when he scored in Barça’s 1-3 win at Valladolid last season. The last game between the two sides was the meeting at Camp Nou in May when Barça won 2-1 in a game remembered more for Barça’s celebrations for winning the league.
Barça’s squad for the game: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Adriano, Busquets, Song, Dos Santos, Xavi, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Pedro, Alexis, Fabregas, Neymar, Tello
Valladolid’s squad for the game: Mariño, Jaime, Rukavina, Alcatraz, Rueda, Heinz, Valiente, Peña, Bergdich, Baraja, Rossi, Vadillo, Alberto, Omar, Ebert, Rama, Osorio, Guerra.
Barça: Valdés, Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Neymar, Pedro.
Valladolid: Mariño; Rukavina, Jesus Rueda, Marc Valiente, Carlos Peña; Fausto Rossi, Javier Baraja; Ebert, Omar, Bergdich; Javi Guerra.
Prediction: Barça 4 Valladolid 0
Date: Saturday 5 October 2013. Kick off 10 pm local time.