There is little time for Barça to enjoy the incredible 3-4 victory over Real Madrid as the title race continues tomorrow with Luis Enrique’s Celta de Vigo visiting Camp Nou (Wednesday 8 pm). Tata Martino has decided to rest Xavi Hernández for the game while there is also no place on the 18-man match list for Carles Puyol, who is still not at 100%, or for Martin Montoya.
Only nine games remain and La Liga is fascinatingly balanced with Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid just one point above third-placed Barça. Leaders Atlético face a reasonably comfortable home game against Granada tomorrow at 10 pm while at the same time Madrid have a complicated match at Sevilla. We can hope that at least Madrid may drop points but to take advantage of any slip from our rivals, first we must beat Celta.
Martino’s job of team selection is made more complicated by a heavy fixture list. Having played Madrid on Sunday we now face Celta on Wednesday, Espanyol away on Saturday and Atlético at Camp Nou next Tuesday in the Champions League, making it four games in the space of ten days. Tomorrow’s game seems the most obvious if Martino wishes to make rotations but the Barça coach will need to put out a strong enough team to ensure the three points.
Martino has been under increasing pressure to reveal his intentions for next season, but while the press continue to speculate on his every word, the Argentinian refuses to confirm anything. Personally, I hope he stays. I might not have agreed with some of his decisions, and in recent weeks he has tested my patience, but considering the unfortunate reasons for his arrival and the relatively short amount of time he had to prepare the season, we should be relatively happy with his work so far.
It seems that the club want him to continue but if he does decide to leave, which could be for any number of reasons, I should state very clearly that of the names that have been touted as Martino’s possible successor I really do not want Michael Laudrup. I should also point out this has nothing to do with his defection to Madrid as a player – I always felt that Laudrup’s reasons, unlike those of pesetero F*go, were more to do with wanting to play than anything else – I simply don’t feel he would make a good Barça coach, I’ve always felt this but my opinion has been reinforced by the Secret Footballer who recently suggested that the Dane was not respected at Swansea.
If Barça do need a new coach I would be happiest with Luis Enrique who is doing a creditable job with tomorrow’s opponent Celta. Last season Celta escaped relegation on a dramatic final day of the season and avoiding the drop was undoubtedly their main objective again when Luis took over for 2013/14 . At a small club on a low budget it is not so easy to play a pro-active possession game which is why so many of them take the simpler option of parking the bus against superior opposition. It is also difficult to instil new ideas at a new club with the need always for immediate results. However, this season Celta have played a Barça-style game with relative success and they currently sit in 12th place on 33 points. They may not quite be safe from going down, mainly due to a lack of home victories but their six wins on the road, including three in the last four trips, have given them a pretty good chance of ensuring survival before the last day this season.
For tomorrow’s game Luis Enrique will have to make do without Barça-loanee Rafinha Alcántara who has an arthritic toe. It would have been great to see Thiago’s little brother return to Camp Nou but it seems almost certain that following his promising performances this season in Celta’s midfield he will return, along with Gerard Deulofeu, to Barça’s first team squad in the summer. Michael Krohn-Dehli will probably also miss the game through suspension though Luis Enrique has included the Danish international in his 19-man squad in case Celta succeed in their appeal to overturn the yellow card the player received in Friday night’s 0-2 defeat to Malaga. Ex-blaugranas Andreu Fontas and Nolito are also included in Celta’s squad and both are expected to start.
Predicting a Barça XI is pretty complicated as Martino could make just a couple of changes to Sunday’s team or he could play up to five or six new players. Adriano or Bartra could easily come in to defence, Alex Song or Sergi Roberto could be considered in midfield while there is a good chance that Alexis and/or Pedro will start up front. Martino sees the players close up in training and we will have to trust he can see who is most in form to do a job tomorrow.
Let’s hope Camp Nou gives Luis Enrique a good welcome on his first return as an opposing coach. Let’s also hope that Barça then go out and give his Celta team a proper good hiding.
Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Alexis, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Celta: Yoel, Sergio Álvarez, Hugo Mallo, Costas, Cabral, Íñigo López, Madinda, Aurtenetxe, Krohn-Dehli, Fontás, Jonny, Oubiña, Alex López, Augusto Fernández, Nolito, Santi Mina, Bermejo, Charles, Orellana.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Alba; Fabregas, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar.
Celta: Yoel; Mallo, Cabral, Fontás, Aurtentxe; Augusto Fernandez, Oubiña, Alex Lopez; Orellana, Charles, Nolito.
Prediction: Barça 4 Celta 1
Date: Wednesday 26 March 2014. Kick-off 8 pm local time.