RACING de SANTANDER
Camp Nou, Barcelona
23rd January 2011; 12:30 AM, IST
After 19 rounds, all the Spanish teams have played against each other at least once. The winter champions FC Barcelona started their campaign against Racing Santander at El Sardinero. The last time these two teams met, the Catalans emerged as winners with Messi, Iniesta and David Villa etching their names on the score sheet. In an emphatic display of football, Iniesta scored one of the most elegant goals – a simple yet chic lob over Racing custodian Toño. Messi mesmerized with his delightful chip and Villa snapped the third, on debut. What is not to be forgotten is that Victor Valdes saved a penalty to guide the champions unscathed.
The scenario is definitely not similar this time around. FC Barcelona was brought to ground by Real Betis, and Racing Santander now has a new owner. Indian businessman Ahsan Ali Syed has completed the purchase of La Liga club Racing Santander on Friday. With an influx of new sugar daddies, La Liga is bound to garner a lot of attention and become a happy hunting ground for top players from outside Spain with considerable wage demands.
Team News And Tactical Brief
After an uncharacteristic defeat at the hands of Real Betis, Guardiola’s men are definitely awake and smelling the coffee. The Catalan club still progressed to the semi-finals on aggregate. They won the first leg 5-0 but succumbed to a resolute display by Betis in the second leg. This also brought to an end an unprecedented unbeaten run in 28 matches. “This game we have (to) treat as a lesson. There was no lack of attitude or tension. They (Betis) scored two goals in the opening minutes. We’re not used to having a team out to attack as they did. Betis is the best that I have faced in recent years,” said Brazilian defender Adriano. Guardiola goes into his 20th domestic league match without the services of Jeffren. A matter of concern amongst fans might be Jeffren’s apparent affinity to untimely injury. This might just be a hindrance in the long run. To make matters a little more complicated, FC Barcelona will also be without Dani Alves, who is recuperating from a muscle injury.
Guardiola choice of first eleven is often as eccentric as the man himself. Despite having a four point lead over Real Madrid, the former midfielder would be the last person on Earth to take Racing lightly. In the absence of Dani Alves, captain Puyol might just be shifted to the right to carry out the duties of the Brazilian. Eric Abidal and Pique at the heart of the defense and more adventurous Maxwell assisting the attackers from the left. Adriano and Fontas Prat too can expect some playing time. In the midfield, there shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Xavi and Iniesta usually feature on a regular basis. Busquets might just be given the nod ahead of Mascherano and Kieta. Nonetheless, Guardiola can also play an oddball and rest Busi. Up front things are a bit clearer. Messi, Villa and Pedro usually chose themselves ahead of everybody else.
Of late, Messi’s evolution as a play maker has created a lot of stir amongst opposition defences. Not only does the Argentine fall back deep in to the midfield, but also gathers balls and distributes them upfront as effectively as anybody else. The fluidity that exists amongst the trio of Pedro, Villa and Messi adds yet another dimension to their offensive prowess. Ibrahim Afellay too can expect some time on the pitch, should the starting eleven decide to kill off the game at the earliest. With almost a game every 3-4 days, almost the entire FC Barcelona squad can expect some quality playing time. January and February being two of the trickiest months, Guardiola wouldn’t mind taking a few extra precautionary measures.
Probable Starting Line-up: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Messi, Pedro, Villa.
Miguel Angel Portugal’s men start the second phase of their campaign just like they did the first – against the mighty Catalans. However, the milieu must be quite pleasant given the fact that the Los Verdiblancos will now have a new owner. Financial issues might just vanish in this air and an influx of a few talented individuals too can be expected. Portugal is of the opinion that the current FC Barcelona might not be invincible, but they play the most beautiful football on the planet. “This team is not invincible, although I qualify that they are the best football team in the world,” said he.
Racing Santander has had an average season so far. They have 20 points in their kitty and are comfortably away from the relegation zone. However, the bad news for them is that of their 5 victories, 4 have come at home and 1 away. They have lost 7 matches away from home and only a herculean effort can save them from adding one more to their tally of away loses. Spanish winger Óscar Serrano underwent a knee surgery and in expected to be sidelined for a couple of months. On loan from Siena, Greek midfielder Alexandros Tziolis too isn’t available for this crucial away tie. Racing’s captain Pedro Munitis is banned from playing in this game (and also the next against Valencia) after being booked twice in their last week match against Athletic Bilbao. Amongst these appalling news, the only solace might be the expected return of Manuel Arana to the starting eleven for this clash. Racing’s Swiss custodian, Fabio Coltorti, might also be available for this match.
Probable Starting Line-up: Toño, Torrejón, Henrique, Colsa, Domingo, Pinillos, Lacen, Gonzalez, Bakircioglü, Rosenburg, Manuel Arana.
1. Racing Santander last won at the Camp Nou in 1983. Barcelona’s record since then – 17 wins and 2 draws.
2. Messi has played 10 games against Racing Santander, scoring 7 goals. He has never lost – 8 wins and 2 draws.
3. Barcelona’s average possession in the Liga this season is 72%.
4. Xavi has completed 94% of his passes for Barcelona in the Liga this season.
5. Ever since Guardiola took over the reins, Barcelona has lost 14 games – 7 in 2008-09, 4 in 2009-10 and 3 in 2010-11.
6. Messi has taken 17 penalties for Barcelona. Scored 12, missed 5.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Week in week out, whenever FC Barcelona plays, this man keep getting featured in this column. Honestly this is getting monotonous and at the same time, whenever the slightly built Argentine takes the field, we get to see something different. The match against Racing shouldn’t be any exception. However, Messi’s newly acquired ability to play as the playmaker makes it even more difficult for defenders to mark him. Not only is he scoring goals by the truckload, he’s also assisting more than ever. Messi’s humility, selflessness and the desire to fight for the team’s cause makes him TheHardTackle’s player to watch out for, yet again.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Racing Santander
With the support of the Camp Nou faithful behind them, it seems difficult for the Los Verdiblancos to get anything from this match. The absence of a few key players will definitely not help their cause. FC Barcelona, fresh from a defeat, will be wary of the situation and might not go full throttle.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
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