Camp Nou, Barcelona
24 April, 2011; 12:30 am, IST
Six more matches to go, 18 more points to play for and mathematically only 10 points needed for Barca to wrap up the league. With the equation clearly laid out, Barcelona returns to Camp Nou to face Osasuna. With another three points, the hosts could take a huge step towards retaining their title. But things won’t be as easy as earlier matches. Teams fighting for their survival are as dangerous as they get. However, given Osasuna’s display against Bilbao last week, it will be a tall task for them.
Osasuna are really up against it with only 2 points separating them from the drop. Having lost a golden opportunity against 10 men Bilbao, Osasuna’s chances don’t look good. Coming off from a defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals, Barcelona will be looking to finish off the league. But everything is not looking good for the Catalans. With a very thin squad taking its toll, Barcelona find themselves in a very jaded situation.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Pep Guardiola is now running out of defenders faster than ever. Recently as Adriano joined the treatment table along with Bojan and Abidal, Pep has even lesser options in defense. His players have increasingly looked tired lately and their intense pressing game is not visible in all the matches. With an important Champions League game coming up next week, some players need rest now more than ever. Messi, Iniesta and Xavi has had very little rest this season.
Apart from the fatigue factor, an increase in the goal drought from the front line is also a concern. Villa has now gone more than 10 games without a goal. Pedro has not yet reached the previous level after his return from injury. The lack of pressing from the front line immediately translates to the backline. This somehow puts Barcelona in a situation, where they are not completely in control of the game. Guardiola has been very reluctant in rotating his squad this season and he has a very thin one to deal with. Thiago, Afellay and Keita may be called upon to replace Villa, Iniesta and Xavi. With Adriano out, Maxwell will replace him and Mascherano again covering the defense. Puyol may not be risked for the whole match. Depending upon the result, players will be subbed earlier than usual keeping in mind the Champions League tie midweek.
When it comes to tactics, Barcelona’s is well known. But teams have increasingly identified that they can be stifled occasionally. Barca will be controlling the game as always and will be looking to open up Osasuna. An early goal will settle the game and it will be very difficult for the visitors to get anything from Camp Nou. Pep’s men have been a little static and narrow in recent games, which has helped the opponents to close them down and narrow the pitch. Pedro and Afellay will be instructed to stretch the game to open up spaces. It is an easy game on the paper, but it will not be as easy for them on the pitch.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Messi, Pedro, Afellay
Osasuna find themselves just two places above the drop zone. Coming in to this game, the visitors will be without their central defender Sergio, who got sent out in last game against Bilbao. But they would be happy about the scoring form of Kike Sola. He has been in decent form for them. However, the team’s recent form is not encouraging. With three consecutive defeats, expecting a victory at the Camp Nou can be a little too much for them. However, having defeated Real Madrid early in the season, they can definitely spring up an upset if things go their way.
Osasuna will be looking to close down space and will try to defend deep. Space for Barca will give no chance for Osasuna in this match. Walter Pandiani will be the front man and with a extra midfielder to stifle the midfield. Camp Nou pitch is wide enough to stretch Osasuna’s defense. Long diagonal balls behind the Barca’s defense will be the order of the day for Osasuna.
Punal and Camunas will be needed to fully make use of the few balls that they will get during the match to cause any danger to Barca’s defense. They will get very little chances and taking one of them will be vital for their survival. Ricardo in goal should be at his best to keep a clean sheet.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Ricardo, Monreal, Flano, Oier, Nelson, Punal, Javed, Camunas, Alvaro, Kike Sola, Pandiani
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Thiago Alcantara (FC Barcelona)
With very little rotation in the first team, Thiago has not got much starts this season. Although still officially a B-Team player, Thiago has been confirmed to be promoted for next season. He has however, performed really well in the little chances he has been given. He gave Barca the lead in their last league game against Almeria. A player with incredible skills on the ball and good vision, he is far away from replacing Xavi or Iniesta, as of now. But with just 19 years of age, he is a potential big name in this team. Pep has huge admiration for his skills, but wants him to keep improving his game to take over from the current maestros. Whether he can handle the big stage, is a question only he can answer.
FC Barcelona 2 – 0 Osasuna
Osasuna will have a hard time chasing the ball at the slippery Camp Nou pitch. But to chase for a full 90 minutes will be a little too much for them. Barcelona should be able to eventually break them down. As described by Pep, to break down a bus, speed in passing and off the ball movement will be very important.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST