It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally I get the feeling that a game is arriving too quickly. Having beaten Real Madrid on Saturday it would be nice to maintain the sweet taste of that 2-1 victory for a couple of days more, but tomorrow Barça are back in action with a midweek league game at Balaídos against Luis Enrique’s Celta de Vigo. Following his injury problems last week Gerard Piqué lasted the 90 minutes against Madrid but Tata Martino has decided to rest the defender for for the trip to Galicia, but all the other available key players have been included in Martino’s 19-man list for the game.
Besides leaving Piqué in Barcelona, Martino will surely make more rotations in the team. Following the tough games with Milan and Madrid and with a local derby with Espanyol coming up on Friday followed by the return game with Milan, one might expect players such as Busquets, Adriano and either Xavi or Iniesta to start on the bench. Martino will also need to decide on what’s best for Leo Messi. Does he play Messi again on the right or restore him to the false-nine role? Or does he rest his star striker with the intention of getting him back to his best. Whether or not Messi is completely over his injury is really the question here. He lasted the 90 minutes against Milan and Madrid but his form suggested he is not at 100%. He has scored just three goals in his last six games which may not indicate a crisis but it does show a drop below his normal extraordinary standards. It may be that Messi needs the minutes to recover his fitness levels but given his recent injury problems it might be prudent to start him on the bench tomorrow. You may recall how Messi played in last season’s 2-2 draw at Balaídos when many felt he should have been rested. A few days later the overworked Messi picked up the first of his recent run of injuries in the Champions League game at Paris Saint Germain. When asked about Messi in this lunchtime’s press conference Martino said that Messi is fine physically and that he was happy with his team-work and recuperations against Madrid. This may suggest that Messi will start tomorrow but I feel I would be happier with an Alexis-Neymar-Pedro front-line while Tello could also be a good option especially after his goal and good performance in last season’s game.
Luis Enrique is not the only ex-blaugrana currently employed at Celta. His assistant is our ex-goalkeeping coach Juan Carlos Unzue and ex-players Andreu Fontas and Nolito are first-team regulars for Os Célticos this season as is Barça’s loaned out Rafinha. Thiago’s little brother has quickly earned a place in Luis Enrique’s starting XI and if he continues to shine then Barça should certainly be thinking about taking him back as a first-team player next season.
Rafinha was suspended for Celta’s splendid 0-5 victory at Malaga on Saturday. That remarkable win will have restored belief in Luis Enrique’s project following a poor run where the Galician team took just two points from seven games and dropped to 19th in the table. Saturday’s win moves Celta out of the relegation zone and they will be hoping to build on the positive momentum.
I think Celta should be good enough to move away from possible relegation. Besides the ex-Barça boys they have some pretty decent players such as midfielder Alex Lopez and Brazilian centre-forward Charles Dias de Oliveira. Charles was last season’s top scorer in the Segunda División with 27 goals for Almeria and he then scored five goals in play-off matches to help the Andalusian team to promotion. He was brought in by Celta in the summer to replace Iago Aspas who left for Liverpool, and he has four goals to his name so far this season. The bad news for Luis Enrique is that the Danish midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli hasn’t recovered from injury in time for tomorrow’s game.
Celta generally try to play a similar 4-3-3 style to Barça’s, but tomorrow they will probably be happy to concede possession to Barça and try to hit us on the break. I feel Barça should be good enough to take all three points from the game as we attempt to shake off the challenge of Atlético Madrid who are still just a point behind at the top of La Liga and who face Granada away on Thursday evening.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Alves, Bartra, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Celta: Yoel; Hugo Malla, Cabral, Fontas, Aurtenetxe; Alex Lopez, Oubinha, Rafinha; Orellano, Charles, Nolito.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartra, Puyol, Montoya; Fabregas, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Neymar, Pedro.
Prediction: Celta 1 Barça 2
Date: Tuesday 29 October 2013. Kick off 10 pm local time.