Camp Nou, Barcelona
October 15, 2011; 18:00 GMT
La Liga is back after a two-week international break; defending champions and current leaders FC Barcelona will host one of the bottom teams, Racing Santander. In theory, this should be a straightforward match for the Catalans, but it becomes a lot more interesting when you consider Barcelona’s traditional post-international break woes. Barcelona are still huge favorites, but Hector Cuper might fancy his team’s chances of causing an upset at Camp Nou.
So far, Barcelona remain undefeated in La Liga and lead the competition with 14 points (from four wins and two draws), while Racing haven’t won a single match, having drawn four and lost two. However, the fact that one of those draws was against Real Madrid shows that they’re a team who will fight against the big teams and not just roll over. Hector Cuper will be looking to get a similar result at the turf of the defending champions.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The defending champions are enjoying a very good start to the season. They already lead the league and will be looking to reinforce their lead with a win over Racing Santander. So far, Barcelona have won all their three home matches in the league and no opponent has managed to concede less than five goals at Camp Nou (Villareal 5-0, Osasuna 8-0 and Atlético Madrid 5-0). When we look at these stats and compare the teams’ overall quality, it seems almost impossible that Barcelona will fail to get three points from this match. But the truth is that Barcelona always tend to struggle after international breaks, often dropping points unexpectedly. Just a few weeks ago, they drew 2-2 at Real Sociedad after the first international break of the season.
But despite that “curse”, Barcelona are still huge favorites to win this match, especially now that Andrés Iniesta is fully fit and ready to start playing again. This international break might have actually been beneficial for the Catalans, as it allowed some players, namely Iniesta and Abidal, to recover from injuries. As it stands, all the regular starters are available to play this weekend. Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez haven’t recovered yet, but they haven’t really established themselves as regular starters, so they’re not exactly huge losses in the short term; not to mention that they will return to action soon, thus adding depth to an already formidable squad.
Pep Guardiola knows that Barcelona can’t afford one of their tradition post-international break slip-ups here. In the quest for the four consecutive title, all points will be important. With that in mind, Pep Guardiola should field his strongest XI available, although it’s uncertain whether he’ll use the traditional 4-3-3 or the 3-4-3 that has been bringing such great results for Barcelona in their home matches this season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Victor Valdés; Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara; Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa and Lionel Messi
Racing are having one of the worst starts in their recent history, after a very difficult summer where they lost their best players and were abandoned by their owners. After six games, they remain one of only two teams not to have won a single match (the other one being Sporting Gijon). Getting that first win at Camp Nou, home of one of the finest club sides in history, is extremely unlikely and would surely be one of the biggest upsets of the season. Hector Cuper has said that this Barcelona side is the best he’s ever seen and that it will be almost impossible to get a result against them, but he has promised that Racing will try their best to slay the Catalan giants.
That promise shouldn’t be taken lightly; despite having one of the weakest squads in the league, Racing pushed Valencia to the limit at Mestalla (eventually losing 4-3) and got an upset 0-0 result at home against Real Madrid, using all their fighting spirit to contain Real Madrid’s world class attackers.
The gulf in quality between the two sides is huge, but Racing will not just roll over for Barcelona. Like they did against Real Madrid, they will defend deep and in numbers, trying to frustrate Barcelona. They know that in order to have a chance they can’t concede early, a task that has proved impossible for all teams visiting the Camp Nou this season. Their strategy will consist of trying to contain Barcelona’s onslaught and counter-attacking through their veteran star Pedro Munitis, who will look to score at any available opportunity. They will need their goalkeeper Toño, one of the best keepers in the league, to have an inspired day as well, as it is almost impossible to prevent Barcelona from creating chances.
It will not be an easy task and Racing would be happy with a draw, which not only would be a major upset but could be very important in the fight to avoid relegation. But they will need to play the perfect match to get a positive result here.
Probable Starting Line-up: Toño; Francis, Alvaro, Bernardo, Christian; Tziolis, Diop, Adrian, Ariel, Cisma; Munitis
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The world’s best player has been rewriting Barcelona’s history books for a while now and if he scores against Racing he will become the second best scorer in the club’s history (he’s currently tied with Kubala at 194 goals). This might very well be another historical night for Lionel Messi as a Barcelona player.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Racing Santander
Barcelona might struggle a bit with Racing’s good defensive organization and their usual problems after international breaks, but in the end they should prevail. The first goal will be difficult to find, but after that Barcelona will calmly win the match and collect another three points.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
After losing 1-0 to Numancia in the first game, Barcelona drew 1-1 at home against Racing in the second game of the Pep Guardiola era in 2008/2009. Few could have anticipated the run Barcelona were about to embark back then.