Two months later and the wait is finally over. Leo Messi is back. Assassin Eyes has been given the green light to return and he has been included in Tata Martino’s 18-man list for tomorrow night’s Copa del Rey first leg game against Getafe at Camp Nou (Wednesday 10 pm). On the other hand, Martino has left out Xavi, Bartra and Alves, presumably with an eye on Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Atlético at the Vicente Calderón.
Playing Getafe in the cup at Camp Nou inevitably brings back memories of Messi’s incredible goal back in the 2007 semi-final. Nevertheless, however great that goal was, it eventually served for nothing as Getafe overturned a 5-2 deficit from the first game to win 4-0 in the return and go through 6-5 on aggregate. This previous experience suggests that unless Barça can build up an even bigger first-leg advantage, the tie is most likely to be decided in the second leg at the Coliseum.
Barça’s 2-5 win in La Liga at Getafe just before Christmas may suggest that Martino’s men will have a reasonably comfortable mission to reach the quarter-finals. However, we should remember that a poor start from Barça in that game resulted in Getafe going 2-0 up, and this should be enough to demonstrate the danger if Barça are not fully tuned in for the task. The impressive 4-0 victory over Elche at the weekend indicated that Martino has his players in good mental and physical condition for the coming matches.
Martino now has the complicated job of deciding on a starting XI for Getafe while keeping in mind the line-up he wants to use against Atlético. It might be argued that a poor result in the first leg against Getafe would leave only the return match to recover while if Barça lose to Atlético there are another 19 remaining games in La Liga to make up the difference. However, given the positions at the top of the league there is little doubt that the result of Saturday’s game could turn out to be decisive in the title race. From the Supercopa games with Atlético at the start of the season Martino knows how tough it will be to beat Diego Simeone’s team, and it seems certain that he will want to have his best possible XI in their best possible condition at the Calderón.
Barça’s coach may need to choose between Alexis and Pedro or between Iniesta and Fabregas for Saturday’s game and if he wants to keep Simeone guessing about his intentions he might choose to rest all four of these players tomorrow. As these four all played against Elche, a start for any of them tomorrow may indicate that Martino is preparing to ‘rotate’ them at the weekend.
For the Getafe game there will undoubtedly be quite a few changes to the team that beat Elche. Martino could go with Pinto in goal, a back four of Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano and Adriano, a midfield of Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Song, with Tello, Messi and Neymar up front. This would rest plenty of starters for the Calderón where Barça could start with Valdés, Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (or Cesc), Pedro (or Alexis), Messi and Neymar.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Song, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Alexis, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Getafe’s 18-man squad: Miguel Angel Moyá, Jordi Codina, Alexis Ruano, Alvaro Arroyo, Lisandro López, Rafael López, Roberto Lago, Juan Valera, Mehdi Lacen, Angel Lafita, Pablo Sarabia, Jaime Gavilán, Pedro León, Diego Castro, Borja Fernández, Juan Rodríguez, Ciprian Marica, Adrián Colunga.
Barça: Pinto; Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano; Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Song; Tello, Messi, Neymar.
Getafe: Codina; Valera, Lisandro, Alexis Ruano, Lago; Lacen, Borja Fernandez; Pedro Leon, Lafita, Diego Castro; Colunga.
Prediction: Barça 3 Getafe 1
Date: Wednesday 8 January 2014. Kick-off 10 pm local time.