Camp Nou, Barcelona
August 29, 2011; 21:00 GMT
The winning habit hasn’t gone away. In fact, one can claim it has only increased. FC Barcelona have already won two trophies this season, the Spanish Super Cup – beating arch-rivals Real Madrid – and the European Super Cup – beating a tough Porto. There cannot be a better start to a season. Guardiola has strengthened the team with the acquisition of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez – two world class talents, but at the same time they have allowed quite a few to leave, albeit with a buy-back clause for some of them. Villarreal, too, have lost personnel but nonetheless, they are a force to reckon.
Last time these two teams met, in the 2010-11 season, Barcelona were suffering from a depleted squad. A goal from Gerard Pique might have won Barca the match, but had it not been for Victor Valdes, Barcelona wouldn’t have left El Madrigal unscathed! A vicious shot from Cazorla, six yards out, was parried away by Valdes – perhaps, the best save of his illustrious career.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Guardiola has a lot of options as far as Barcelona’s attack is concerned. However, the same cannot exactly be said about the defense. The man who recently overtook Cruyff as the most successful Barcelona manager is known for his immaculate match preparation. The presence of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez is surely encouraging, but definitely not satisfying. “We are not invincible. Each team can beat us. We need to show that the players still have desire to have the best game possible,” said Guardiola emphasizing how important it is to hold on to the hard-earned success.
Injuries and absences of key personnel have plagued Barcelona in their relentless pursuit of silverware. The season-opener against Villarreal at the Camp Nou is no exception. In the training session after the Super Cup, Carles Puyol finally joined the group and did some exercise all by himself. His recuperation is on the right track and he is expected to be back soon. The caveman will be extremely crucial in this season’s title defense.
The bad news is that Adriano, too, is injured; an elongation in the femoral biceps in his left leg, and is definitely out of the clash against Villarreal. Mercurial Dani Alves too isn’t available because of suspension. Pique, too, will not be abe to take part in the game because of injury. Almost the entire Barcelona defense is unavailable. The most likely combination will comprise Busquets, Mascherano and Abidal. Guardiola might just give young Fontas a chance to showcase his talent and make a claim in the first team. In the absence of Busquets in midfield, Cesc might get a start.
The combination of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc is the most likely one to be in the midfield. Fabregas has already shown that he can play the ‘false 9’ that is usually done for Messi and his link up with the Argentine has been good (the second goal against Porto) and in the wake of a makeshift defense, the onus will be on Barcelona’s offense to take them home safely. David Villa, Messi and Pedro are expected to lead the offense. Alexis Sanchez might make an appearance later in the match. The Chilean might not be rushed as he too came back from a minor knock.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Fontas, Mascherano, Busquets, Abidal; Cesc, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa
The Yellow Submarines have had a busy transfer window. They lost a few key personnel in Cazorla and Capdevilla but have acquired the services of young Colombian defender – Cristián Zapata, from Udinese. The centre-back was a regular for the Italians and in the absence of the experienced Capdevilla, will provide solidity to the defense. His understanding with Carlos Marchena and Mateo Musacchio will be key to Villarreal’s success this season. Zapata’s ability to play as a fullback, gives the team much needed flexibility at the back. His debut against Odenese has not exactly been upto his liking as a mispass at a crucial juncture led to a goal, but Zapata is a better player than projected.
In Javier Camuñas, Villarreal have an experienced player who can make up a little for the departure of Cazorla. Camuñas has the ability to play as a centre midfielder, winger, attacking midfielder and also as a second striker. His link-ups with Rossi, Nilmar, Cani will be extremely crucial. Villarreal played some scintillating football last season and with players like these, there’s no reason for them not to do the same this time around. Borja Valero, who was on loan from West Bromwich Albion last season, made the deal permanent and will be the key man in the midfield. The 26-year old Real Madrid youth product is as good as they get in midfield and had it not been for the plethora of talent in the national team, he would have been a regular for Spain too. Juan Carlos Garrido’s men have always taken the battle to Barcelona and this match should be no exception.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Diego López; Ángel López, Carlos Marchena, Musacchio, Zapata; Valero, Cani, Camuñas, Senna; Nilmar, Rossi
1. Pep Guardiola is now the most succcessful Barcelona manager. Cruyff has 11 titles as Barcelona manager. Guardiola, now, has 12 to his name.
2. Any team which started their campaign against Malaga, never won the La Liga. Barcelona were supposed to open their season against Malaga. However, they will now open against Villarreal.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Cesc Fabregas (FC Barcelona)
The prodigal son has returned home after a frustrating spell in England. His return has been worthwhile as Fabregas has already won with his boyhood club. The match against Villarreal will be a real test for him as he’d not only have to tackle Villarreal but will also need to live upto the expectation of the Camp Nou faithful, who expect nothing but the best from their players.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal CF
Despite the fact that the first choice defense is absent, Barcelona should win this match as the Camp Nou crowd will act as the 12th man. However, it would be difficult to stop the potent Villarreal offense to score. It will be a battle of the offences and is expected to be a great game to watch.