Camp Nou, Barcelona
April 9, 2011; 11:30 am, IST
After a hectic mid-week of European games, teams are back to their leagues. Having negated most of the tricky away fixtures, Pep’s men will be back at their own backyard, against the team at the bottom of the table. This may not be a high profile match, but it is one, which Barcelona will be looking to finish off without any major concerns. A slip up here could again make the title chase lot more interesting. Pep knows how important a victory is at the Camp Nou. “We can lose at the Bernabeu in the league, we can lose against Espanyol at home, but there is one game we cannot lose: the one against Almeria,” said the ever demanding Guardiola.
Almeria’s stay in La Liga next season is a big question mark. They are at the bottom of the table with 8 games to go. A result at the Camp Nou would be priceless for their survival. But realistically that may not be possible. They have their second coach in a year. This could also work in their favor, as with any change comes new hope and confidence.
Guardiola has acknowledged this and in his pre-match interview said, “No one expected Sporting to win at the Bernabeu and it did. No one expected Schalke to score five against Inter in their own home. And now no one is also expecting Almeria to win at the Camp Nou. Anything can happen in a sport like this and I prefer not to count on anything until everything is done with.” Pep is not ready to look beyond Almeria as of now.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Barcelona having a thin squad is no news. But the effects of having one has been showing itself during recent weeks. They have virtually ran out of defenders. Pep has been insisting that he can count on the B Team for players, but without much playing time it might be difficult. Valdez is suspended for this match and so is Busquets. Puyol and Abidal are out injured. Pep has to choose either Milito or Fontas to partner Pique. Pinto picked up a knock during training session last week and still has not been cleared; although he is expected to be back.
The other concern of course is that a yellow card for Messi would force him to miss the trip to Madrid. There has also been a constant complaining about the lack of goals from Messi, Villa and Pedro. But Pep doesn’t seems to be much concerned, as he is still getting goals to win matches. This may be the perfect time for Messi to score ahead of El-Clasico.
There will not be much change in the way Barca will approach this match. It will be an all out attack from them, monopolizing the ball. In fact, it will be very hard for Almeria to see the ball for most of the match. With Pedro back, Pep can use the width much more and will be looking to stretch Almeria. Iniesta will be starting with Xavi and Mascherano in midfield and will have most of the ball. The defense is still a problem for Pep, as there is no suitable cover for both Abidal and Puyol. Milito is error prone but he is the only experienced defender left.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Pinto, Alves, Pique, Milito, Adriano, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa
Roberto Olabe has come in to replace Jose Luis Oltra, as they try to rescue a failing campaign. Olabe has 8 matches to save Almeria and he couldn’t have asked for a worse start. But on the hind side, this could be the change that could spark off some thing in their favor. A draw could be a huge result for them.
Almeria could be without Santiago Acasiete and Pellerano. Diego Alves would have to face the attack. Ullao is Almeria’s top scorer and has pace to burn up-front. But he may be forced to defend most of the time. M’Bami and Bernardello have to put in extra shifts to stop Xavi and Iniesta from supplying the attack.
They will be looking to put men behind the ball and defend resolutely for 90 minutes remembering what had happened, when they tried to attack Barcelona last time. With the nimble Pablo Piatti, Barcelona might just find a tricky customer to deal with. Smaller than Messi, Piatti is very talented and skillful. With his pace, he could cause few problems to Barca’s defense.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2) : Diego Alves, Michel, Silva, Garcia, Luna, M’Bami, Bernardello, Piatti, Crusat, Henok, Ulloa
- Almeria has only 5 wins this season.
- Almeria has conceded 51 goals this season compared to Barcelona’s 15.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andres Iniesta (FC Barcelona)
He became a father recently and immediately celebrated it with a goal against Shakhtar on Wednesday night in the Champions League. He has been a regular this season after an injury ridden 2009-10. His movement and skill on the ball is unquestionable and his vision is deadly. With Xavi, he forms one of the most feared midfields in the world. Almeria will have to find something better than they did in their last meeting to contain him. He will not be scoring more goals, but he will be unlocking defenses at will and a night mare for defenses with his touch. Only Messi’s lack of goals is keeping him from this section.
FC Barcelona 3 – 0 Almeria
Almeria will see very little of the ball and that in turn will affect their scoring chances. Barcelona on the other hand will be looking to finish off this game and will score as much as possible. The strike force of Messi, Pedro and Villa along with Xavi and Iniesta will be little too much for Almeria to hold out for 90 minutes. Not to forget Alves, who may well be settling down in Almeria’s half for the whole match, forgetting that he is a defender.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST