Barça take on Osasuna at Camp Nou tomorrow afternoon (Sunday 5 pm) and nothing other than a victory will do. A week before visiting the Bernabéu Tata Martino’s men cannot afford to concede any more advantage to Real Madrid who currently maintain a four-point lead over Barça at the top of La Liga or to Atlético Madrid who sit in second place three points below the leaders. Martino has named 18 players for tomorrow’s game but he is without injured central defenders Carles Puyol (knee) and Gerard Piqué (ankle). Puyol is also doubtful for the Bernabéu but Piqué should have recovered in time.
Beating Manchester City to reach the Champions League quarter-finals has helped to recuperate some pride and optimism after the doom and gloom of the defeat at Valladolid. Despite the feeling last weekend that we had blown La Liga, the reality is that we are only four points behind Real Madrid and a win next week at the Bernabéu will put us right back in the title race. There should be little doubt about the quality of the Barça first-team squad, however, as we return to the bread-and-butter games in the league it seems likely that the main problem will continue to be a question of motivation.
I’m not suggesting any player goes out without the intention of giving his all for the team, rather that the hunger is not as great which is seen in the lower intensity shown in some games and in occasional brief losses of concentration. Some claim that Martino has lost the confidence of part of the changing room while there are also suggestions that training sessions are not as tough as under Pep Guardiola. While this may just be speculation there are other little details, such as Victor Valdés’s post-match video tweets or Dani Alves’s goal celebration, which suggest discipline may not be what it was.
Alves’s gesture to the Camp Nou public to turn up the volume may not have gone down well in some parts but personally I was happy to see his passion. The Brazilian was most likely upset to hear the whistles aimed earlier at Neymar and his appeal to get the fans behind the team should be seen positively. The video Alves posted the following morning, dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy”, brought a smile to many, but I have to say I’d be fascinated to hear what a psychologist would say about the choice of song and the need to share it with the world.
I recognize the need to be patient with Neymar. The player is under added pressure due to all the scandal surrounding his transfer fee, but I should remember that the player himself is not to blame for his price-tag, nor is it his fault if Martino picks him ahead of Alexis and Pedro. However, statistics show he has only scored twice in the 15 games he has started alongside Messi, and the question remains of whether he can perform in the same team as the Argentinian. His confidence seems to be affected, and personally I’d like to see him used as a substitute for a couple of games where his speed will be noticed more against tiring teams.
Martino himself, continues to refuse to reveal his intentions for next season. Could it be, as some suggest, that the Argentinian is not happy in the job? He certainly seems to be losing his patience with the press in Barcelona but there could also be personal reasons dictating his decision. If there is one thing I am worried about with Martino it is his ability to motivate the players for the “less-important” games, and if there is any truth that he is not happy it will obviously be more difficult for him to lift others.
Tomorrow’s opponents Osasuna are currently 15th in La Liga on 29 points and they have an away record of three wins, three draws and eight defeats with nine goals scored and twenty-three conceded. Marc Beltran and Miguel Angel De Las Cuevas are both out injured so coach Javi Gracia has called up Manu Onwu to an 18-man squad which includes three Masia products in Damiá Abella, Cristian Lobato and top scorer with nine goals Oriol Riera.
Osasuna last won at Camp Nou (0-1) at the end of the 2008/09 season when Pep Guardiola’s Barça were already celebrating their first league title. Since then there have been four straight wins for Barça in the corresponding fixture and a Copa del Rey victory in 2011/12. The last two league games at Camp Nou between the teams have ended 8-0 and 5-1 with Messi scoring three and four in those two games, respectively.
I hope to see another big victory tomorrow, and I’d also very much like to see a start for Pedro and Alexis.
Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Alexis, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Osasuna: Andrés Fernández, Riesgo; Flaño, Arribas, Oier, Lotiès, Damiá; Lolo, Armenteros, Puñal, Cejudo, Lobato, Francisco Silva, Raoul Loé, Roberto Torres; Manu Onwu, Oriol Riera, Acuña.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Osasuna: Andrés Fernandez; Oier, Lotiès, Damiá; Lolo, Silva; Cejudo, Roberto Torres, Armenteros; Oriol Riera.
Prediction: Barça 4 Osasuna 0
Date: Sunday 16 March 2014. Kick-off 5 pm local time.