Barça visit Getafe tomorrow afternoon (Sunday 5 pm) to play the seventeenth game of the 2013/14 Liga and the final match of 2013. Neymar Jr is suspended while Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol both miss the trip with minor injuries, but Dani Alves returns to the squad and Tata Martino has given another opportunity to 18-year-old striker Jean-Marie Dongou to travel with the first team.
Barça have remained on top of La Liga for the whole of 2013. However, to finish the year in first place Barça must at least equal the scoreline that Atlético Madrid achieve in their game at home to Levante this evening (Saturday). If Atlético continue with their impressive form and achieve a big win then Barça will need to beat Getafe by the same margin of goals or it will be Diego Simeone’s men celebrating Christmas and the New Year looking down at the rest.
It has been a complicated week at Can Barça with more than the usual amount of off-field activities, comments and rumours. Probably the most worrying is the news of the launch of a Brussels investigation into illegal public financing of seven Spanish clubs including Barça, though Real Madrid have more to be concerned about here for Florentino Perez’s infamous Pelotazo. There has also been talk of an organised campaign to destabilize Barça with the official request from magistrate Pablo Ruz for details of the Neymar signing, the revelation from an Argentine journalist that a friend of a friend of a friend of Tata Martino has said that the coach is not happy and will leave at the end of the season, and the continued slur campaign against Leo Messi and his father.
Messi may be thousands of miles away recuperating from his injury but he is still the centre of many discussions back in Barcelona. Whether or not there is an organised campaign against us or not, the internal spat between economic director Xavier Faus and Messi cannot be blamed on outsiders. Faus should have known better to make his public statement last week that he didn’t know why Barça should offer Messi a new contract. However, Messi’s response that ‘Faus knows nothing about football’ was equally inopportune. Now that Rosell has come out publicly on Messi’s side with his statement that ‘the best player in the world should be the best-paid player’, and now that the new contract until 2018 has been announced for Andrés Iniesta, we can be pretty sure that Messi will get an improved deal soon. The problem with this whole episode is that now there will be an increased feeling of ‘what Messi wants Messi gets’ which will no doubt only help serve those who wish to destabilize him.
It has been an up-and-down year for Messi and he is at a very important moment of his career. The growing external pressures and the recent run of bad luck with injuries could lead to doubts in Messi’s mind that may effect his form when he returns. However, if he can continue to demonstrate the mental strength that has brought him so far already then this all could work in his favour. He has always responded well to a challenge and he may now come back with a point to prove. The recent break from playing could also mean that if he avoids further injury he should end the season in a very strong physical condition which will be good for Barça when the titles are being decided and also good for Argentina in the summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Messi, of course, like Victor Valdés, is still out injured, though despite the defeats at Ajax and Athletic, the team has responded pretty well without them and they should both return in the New Year. The question was raised when the pair were injured of whether Barça could remain top of the league until Christmas without them. We still don’t have the answer though if Atlético thrash Levante tonight it may be very complicated. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about these details and just try to make sure of the three points at Getafe, though it will no doubt be a boost to Atlético if they go top in the run-up to our clash at the Calderón on January 12.
Getafe could prove to be a dangerous opponent and we might remember how they beat us 1-0 at the Coliseum two seasons ago. Coach Luis Garcia Perez has been in charge at Getafe since 2011 and since then they have finished 11th in 2011/12 and 10th in 2012/13. They currently sit in 8th place in the table on 23 points, while their home record reads four wins, two draws and two defeats. The best of Getafe this season was seen in a 0-2 victory at Villarreal though they have also been on the end of a 7-0 hiding at Atlético.
Tata Martino will no doubt want to put out his best available team for the game. Pinto will start in goal, Alves should return in a defence which could also include Bartra, Piqué and Alba – great to get our first-choice full-back pairing back after more than three months! In midfield we can expect to see Busquets and Iniesta with the other place going to Sergi Roberto or Alex Song. Fabregas will probably be used again as a false-nine with Alexis and Pedro playing the wings.
Finally, in case you haven’t already seen, you can win a free copy of my book Barça: The Guardiola in this quiz.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Bartra, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Alexis, Pedro, Dongou, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Getafe: Moya; Arroya, Rafa, Alexis, Roberto Lago; Borja, Mosquera; Pedro Leon, Sarabia, Diego Castro; Ciprian.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Alba; Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Fabregas, Pedro.
Prediction: Getafe 0 Barça 2
Date: Sunday 22 December 2013. Kick off 5 pm local time.