Estadio del Mediterraneo, Almeria
21st November 2010, 12:30 AM IST
The defending champions travel south to take on UD Almeria. With a chance to build on their already fabulous away record the champions would take this as a preparation for the imminent El Clásico. After a fantastic win against Villareal, the visitors are in perfect shape for this match. Recent news of the arrival of Dutch midfielder Ibrahim Afellay may have the Blaugrana supporters in frenzy but the disagreement between the board and marauding fullback Dani Alves over a new contract might just dampen their spirits. Nonetheless, Pep Guardiola’s men will be wary, not to drop anymore points before the colossal clash against Real Madrid.
Almeria isn’t exactly in the best of forms. After eleven rounds of action, Juan Manuel Lillo’s side lie as low as 18th in the league with just 9 points. A loss against a 9-man Athletic Bilbao last week further demoralized the outfit. Almeria, who have only won once in the Primera Division this season, need to pull up their socks in order to avoid relegation. A defeat against Barcelona might just ring the death knell for Lillo, who took over from former Mexican superstar, Hugo Sanchez in 2008. Well even the darkest of clouds have a silver lining and Almeria can relish the fact that they have had a week of rest when several Barcelona stars were sweating it out for their national teams.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Catalans go to this match without the services of Eric Abidal, Gabi Milito and Jeffren. Gerard Pique has been struggling with a slight hamstring problem and is doubtful for the match against Almeria. Nonetheless, the Spanish centre back is named in the 19-man squad. Pique missed last round’s match because of suspension and in this match if the Spaniard plays and receives another warning, he will miss the vital match against Real Madrid. José Manuel Pinto, Thiago Alcántara, Andreu Fontàs and Sergi Gómez, will all face late fitness tests, while Gaby Milito continues his recuperation from a leg injury.
Dani Alves’ apparent disagreement with the board regarding a new contract might just upset the team’s chemistry. However, a fabulous deal is in the horizon with Ibrahim Affelay reported to join the Spanish Champions in the Winter Transfer Window. Pep would be wary of Lillo, his mentor and friend, and his side. The inclusion of Pique in the starting eleven might just be a matter of concern for the Blaugrana boss, as Pique might then stand a chance to miss the Clasico. Barcelona has been ruthless when playing away from home and this match should be no exception. Players from the academy might just get their chance to impress Pep.
Probable Starting Line-up: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa.
Besides all their existing problems, the Andalusian camp is plagued with injuries. Hernan Pellerano and Miguel Angel Nieto aren’t there for Almeria. Spanish winger Albert Cruzat too might just miss the imperative game against Barcelona with a hamstring injury. Cameroonian midfielder Modeste M’bami did not train but might just be available for the tie. Their manager too isn’t very hopeful coming into this match. “Against Barcelona, you almost do what they let you do. You cannot play as you want, but rather do whatever you can. The important thing is that we can take advantage of the opportunities that they give us,” said Lillo.
Nigerian striker Kalu Uche, however, will be available for the match and Lillo might just plan to take advantage of a beleaguered Catalan defence. Against Barcelona’s possession football, Almeria will be looking to attack on the counter and the presence of Uche might just add impetus to their attack.
Probable Starting Line-up: Diego Alves, Michel, Carlos Garcia, Acasiete, Jakobsen, Ortiz, Bernardello, Corona, M’Bami, Kalu Uche, Piatti
1. Lillo and Pep Guardiola had a stint together at the Mexican club Dorados and both have similar football philosophies.
2. The Catalans have won their last 5 La Liga matches whereas the hosts have drawn 3 and lost 2.
3. Lionel Messi has scored 44 goals in 44 La Liga games since the start of 2009-10.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona): The diminutive Argentine had a splendid match against Brazil, scoring the only goal of the match and earning his national side a valuable win. Leo now has scored 65 goals in the last 65 matches for Barcelona, an incredible feat to say the least. With only one goal behind Cristiano Ronaldo, in the Pichichi race, the Argentine would love to leapfrog the Portuguese while earning his club all three points.
UD Almeria 1-3 FC Barcelona
Almeria would find it extremely difficult to contain Lionel Messi. Even if they manage to do, David Villa, Pedro, Iniesta and Xavi are good enough to find the back of the net. However, a besieged Catalan defence might just give the hosts their lease of life.