Camp Nou, Barcelona
November 29, 2011; 21:00 hrs. GMT
The defending champions are stuttering. Six points behind arch-rivals, Real Madrid, the gap looks decisive enough but like they say – “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”. The last match against Getafe will serve as a wake-up call for a team which might just have been a little too complacent of late. A little drop in the tempo of Pep’s men was noticeable and it’s for sure that major European teams have noted that and started working on exploiting these shortcomings.
The incisiveness seems to have vanished. FC Barcelona does not look as threatening as they used to once upon a time. The team looks jaded and with most of their players playing excessive football for the past few years, a drop in momentum isn’t surprising. Against Getafe the team started off well with Messi coming close, but slowly the effervescence died. Of late the team seems to have been contended with possession and passing in the opposition half with lesser number of real goal-scoring threats. The game against Getafe wasn’t anything different. The hosts attacked occasionally but ironically their attack had more venom than Barca’s – another testimony to the defending champion’s fading hegemony. After conceding, Barca often goes all out in search of equalizer, thereby leaving the already thin defense even more pregnable. Even Leo Messi’s brilliant effort hit the woodwork (this season Messi is hitting the woodwork more often than Villa, who isn’t doing enough to hit that even) and Barcelona were denied an equalizer.
“We are Barcelona and we will move forward,” said Gerard Pique. No matter what Pique says or does, nothing can refute that action speaks louder than words. As of now, Barcelona hasn’t shown enough intent. David Villa’s rueful form is now becoming a matter of concern and the former Gijon marksman is perhaps past his prime. Guardiola might just try out the trio of Alexis, Pedro and of course Leo Messi. Iniesta is yet to recover fully; ergo, Xavi, Busquets and Fabregas (who recovered from a minor knock) are most likely to orchestrate from the centre of the park. Defense has been a matter of concern and the lack of proper defenders (in case of injuries and suspensions) has been exposed on a few occasions. After being rested against Getafe, Puyol is again expected to marshal his troops in defense along with Pique, Alves and Abidal. Being successful is definitely a difficult task but holding onto that is even tougher. If Guardiola manages to do that, he will cease to be a legend at the Camp Nou – he’ll become a myth!
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas, Pedro, Messi, Sanchez.
Yes, Barcelona are stung and will be looking to salvage some pride. Yes, the match is at the Camp Nou. Yes, the opposition has the likes of Xavi, Fabregas, Pedro and Lionel Messi in their line-up. Yes, Vallecano is one of the recently promoted sides in La Liga. Amidst all the intimidating facts, one must also remember that – YES, it was yet another recently-promoted team that shocked Guardiola’s Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season. Rayo can take a lot of inspiration from that game. Purists might be of the opinion that this isn’t exactly the right time to take on Barca as they have moved from distraught to desperate, but (Rayo) optimists might just believe that this is the best time to put some more dent into Barca’s title ambition – when the team is a bit low on morale. Lest one forget, Rayo went to the Bernabeu, in a relatively more obscure Madrid derby, and drew first blood against Mourinho’s super human side, amidst all hostility. There’s no reason for Rayo fans not to believe that they cannot do the same against Barca and of late, Barca’s ability to bounce back from deficits has been questioned.
A resolute and disciplined display might just allow the capital side to open up the gap between Madrid and Barca a little more, after Getafe (co-incidentally, yet another Madrid based outfit). Tito and Jordi, Rayo’s defensive anchors will have a tough job at hand to repel Messi and Co. Tito’s pace in sudden counter attacks might just hurt Barca and the presence of Raul Tamudo enhances that prospect exponentially. Tamudo, an Espanyol legend, has the penchant to trouble Barca and his goal against the more illustrious Catalan club in 2006-07 took away the league title from Barca. On the other side of defense, an offensive Casado too can provide Rayo with the width to attack on the counter. In Movilla, Rayo has a midfielder who has defied the age barrier. Even at 36, he’s one of Rayo’s most influential players. He’ll be partnered by Michu and Fuego. The former is capable of building up the offense and the latter will act as a cover to the defense, which can expect relentless attacks from the hosts. Up front pacy wingers Piti and Lass will provide support to Tamudo, who is expected to be the sole POA (point of attack) for the visitors. Sandoval should be extremely happy with a point and perhaps his joy will know no bounds if another two come along.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-2-1): Cobeno; Tito, Labaka, Jordi, Casado; Movilla, Fuego, Michu; Lass, Piti; Tamudo.
1. FC Barcelona will be playing the next three matches at the Camp Nou and never under Guardiola did they win all whenever three consecutive matches were played at the Camp Nou.
2. Rayo have scored and conceded the same number of goals in 2011-12 La Liga season.
3. Under Guardiola, Barcelona has lost only one match in November – against Getafe, last week. Can Rayo make it two?
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
In the wake of a mini offensive crisis, Leo Messi has to stand up to the occasion and deliver. The FIFA Ballon d’Or will have to step and earn his team the goals.
Barcelona 2-0 Rayo Vallecano
Despite their recent showing, it’ll be safe to go for a Barca victory by a two-goal (perhaps a little unconvincing) margin. Leo Messi is expected to score (or assist, at least).