Camp Nou, Barcelona
December 13th, 1:30 AM IST
After an emphatic win away at Pamplona, the defending champions welcome Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou. Pep Guardiola will be facing the Basque football side for the first time in his managerial career. The last time this two clubs played each other was way back in 2006-07 before Real Sociedad relegated to Segunda División. Rijkaard’s Barcelona and Guardiola’s Barcelona are two different entities and the visitors might just get intimidated, if not scared. If the former had the likes of Ronaldinho, Belletti, Guily, Deco, Thuram, Gudjohnsen, the latter has Messi, Dani Alves, Iniesta, Xavi, Pique, Villa.
FC Barcelona enters this game amidst mixed emotions. On one hand they are enjoying a fabulous run both in Spain and in Europe and having all three Ballon d’or finalists from their famed La Masia. While on the other hand, the administration has announced that they have reached a sponsorship agreement with the Qatar Foundation worth €170 million over five years and will carry their name on the football first team’s shirts. The deal is certainly a lucrative one from financial point of view, but if looked at it from Cule perspective, it’s indeed devastating. Never in its century long history did the club have any full time paying sponsor on their shirt, until 2006. If there is any one word that captures the contemporary sense of Més que en club it would perhaps be UNICEF. Philanthropy has taken a jolt and FC Barcelona Vice-president Javier Faus explained that the club will receive €30m each season for years, starting on July 1, 2011 running until June 30, 2016, plus bonuses for trophies won that could total €5m.
The team however has almost exceeded all expectations on the pitch. After a fabulous string of results in La Liga, the Catalan side has finally broken their UEFA Champions League jinx against Rubin Kazan. After dismantling the likes of Sevilla, Almeria, Real Madrid and then CA Osasuna, the Catalan side welcomed the Russian outfit at Camp Nou and an inspiring performance from the young team comprising of youth academy players handed Guardiola his first win against the Russians. In short, the team looks well set to take on Real Sociedad who are no strangers to the standard of La Liga and have quite effortlessly accumulated 22 points from 14 games.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The hosts are in breathtaking form having scored 21 times in their last 5 games and conceding none. Despite having a rocky start at the Camp Nou, they have quite made up for it and are duly leading the Spanish League table. Return of Bojan and Kieta to training is good news for the hosts. After midweek’s fabulous display against Rubin Kazan, youngsters like Thiago, Prat, Vazques and others can expect some extra time with the senior team. Jeffren and Milito will be the only ones not available. Pep Guardiola thus has the option to field a very solid first 11 against the La Liga old-timers. The only hitch might just be Gerard Pique’s inclusion. The towering Spaniard currently has accrued four yellow cards and another one this weekend might just mean his unavailability for the important away trip to Espanyol. Guardiola might choose to rest Pique a la the Almeria match in order to ensure the latter’s availability next weekend.
Barcelona will play their ever-reliant 4-3-3, with David Villa, Lionel Messi and Pedro upfront. The trio has acclimatized very well and is as good as it gets. The defence too looks pretty solid in the presence of Puyol, Pique, Abidal and Alves. If the manager chooses otherwise, Pique might make room for Maxwell or newbie Fontas Prat who has had a good start to his senior career but is yet to be tested against an incisive attack. Guardiola’s dilemma lies in the midfield. He has the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Mascherano, Kieta and others to fill up a slot of three. The Spanish duo – Xavi and Iniesta however, has the ability to make it into any squad in the world. The problem lies with the third and final spot. As of now Mascherano and Kieta have been snubbed in order to accommodate the talented Sergio Busquets who fits into the Catalan mould of football more. Saying this, the other two are in no way less. Mascherano is the captain of the Argentine national team and Kieta is a key component in Mali’s line-up. Nevertheless, the team’s agenda would be to build on to the momentum and with the support of 98,000 Camp Nou faithfuls, to snatch all three points.
Probable starting Line-up: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa, Pedro
The Basque outfit has had a troubled past. After getting relegated in 2006-07, they finally got promoted to the Spanish first division in 2009-10. Three successive years in Segunda División might just have taken away the sheen, nonetheless the Txuri-urdin still remain an energetic bunch of players. Following their return to La Liga, Sociedad has now notched up 7 wins, 1 draw and six loses and sit in sixth position. The problem with them has been their away form. Of the 7 wins, 5 have come at home and snatching up their third away victory at the Camp Nou will be anything but easy for Martín Lasarte’s men.
After two consecutive wins, Sociedad will be looking forward to a positive result. Hercules stunned Barca 2-0 at the Camp Nou in September, a first home defeat in the league for the Catalan giants since May 2009, and Sociedad defender Mikel Gonzalez believes he and his team mates are capable of causing another upset. “They not only have a great forward line but also the best defence in the league and this is going to be a very tough game particularly as Barça are fighting for the title. It won’t be a game for us to enjoy but where we will have to work hard and make them suffer,” said star midfielder Xavi Prieto.
Probable starting Line-up: Claudio Bravo, Mikel Gonzalez, Jon Ansotegui, Alberto de la Bella, Carlos Martinez, Mikel Ararburu, Diego Gutiérrez, Joseba Llorente, David Zurutuza, Antoine Griezmann, Xavi Prierto
1. FC Barcelona now has scored 16 goals in the last 3 league matches without conceding.
2. Real Sociedad won the La Liga twice – 1980-81 & 1981-82 and finished runners-up thrice, last being in 2002-03.
3. David Villa has scored or assisted a goal in each of his last 7 league appearances.
4. Real Sociedad for the last time got a point at the Camp Nou in 1995 (1-1). Since then, they’ve lost 12 times in a row.
5. Against Real Sociedad on Sunday, Barcelona will play for the last time with the “World Champion 2009” logo on the shirt
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
David Villa (FC Barcelona)
The former Valencia striker is in great form. In his last 7 league games he has been involved in getting goals for his team – either by scoring or assisting. Villa celebrated his 29th birthday on the 3rd of December and he’d do everything to ensure a joyous ride from birthday to Christmas and the New Year.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Real Sociedad
The visitors would find it extremely difficult to breach the Barcelona fortress and even if they do they’ll have to get past an extremely competent Victor Valdes. Sociedad would face even more difficulty in stalling the Barcelona attackers. They’d need a cast-iron plan for that but more often than not Messi & Co. break out of such plans with their immaculate passing and ball retention. A victory for the home team seems to be highly likely and if otherwise, Martín Lasarte can surely take pride.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST