Jose Rico Perez
January 29th, 2011, 11:30 PM IST (20:00 HRS BST)
Can Hercules do it again? Can they stop this Barcelona side that is on a roll beating everyone by huge goal margins? This seems to be the question lingering on many of our minds. It was on Saturday, the 11th of September 2010, that Hercules went into the lion’s den and came out victorious. Hercules was a newly promoted side and Barca are the reigning Spanish Champions, but things didn’t turn out as expected on that very day. After that match Hercules Coach Esteban Vigo said “See, I’m not mad after all“. He had predicted his team would beat Barcelona by 2 goals. Pep Guardiola had no excuses to make then. He said “They played brilliantly. All I can do is congratulate them,” as he praised the “herculean” effort from Hercules.
Of course 5 months is an eternity in the footballing calendar. Things have changed a lot for both the teams. After 20 match days Barcelona finds themselves on the top of the league standings with a record number of points and a mammoth goal difference. Hercules, on the other hand, are at 12th place with 22 points and they have lost 10 matches compared to the one suffered by Barca. Barcelona’s away match column is perfect with the stat reading as all wins.
Barcelona has managed to break buses parked at opposition’s box this season with Villa settling into the team nicely. The front three are the deadliest in Europe currently. On current form it may be easy to predict a walk-over for Barca. But Pep knows he cannot under-estimate Hercules like he did in last match. With the spot on the cup semi final almost assured for Barca, Hercules knows what is coming at them and they will be ready to take on the challenge.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The club from Alicante is the only club that can boast off as to have beaten the mighty Barcelona this season. Hercules seems confident that they can repeat what they did in the first round. “After hearing the debates, you would think we probably have no chance to do it, but I am convinced that it is not the case,” said their coach Vigo, hoping lightning can strike twice. Hercules has an impressive home record and Vigo’s optimism can be justified given the fact that they have won their last 4 matches at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez.
Vigo took inspiration from Mourinho’s tactics during Inter’s trip to the Camp Nou in last year’s Champions League during his first leg and was very successful. It is not hard to see what will be the tactics again. Pressing hard against Barca and defending high up the pitch can be suicidal, as many teams have already found out against Barca. The best approach has been to park the bus and try to break quickly with long balls behind the defense to catch them on the break. Vigo knows that it is impossible to dominate possession against this Barca side, but he also knows that he can’t give space between the lines for Barca. This inevitably points to the “park the bus” strategy from Hercules.
In the last match between the two, Hercules played a very compact and disciplined defense giving no space at the back. When Hercules got possession, they broke at pace through the wings with Royston Drenthe beating Barca’s backline with ease while Valdez and Trezeguet provided him support upfront. They are facing some injury concerns recently with Valdez and Abraham Paz not fully fit and doubtful, while Javier Farinos remains sidelined. Drenthe has recovered from an injury he suffered two weeks ago. Trezeguet is their top scorer and is a handful for any defense.
- Deep defense with numbers and no space between the two defensive lines.
- Giving less time for Xavi and Iniesta to work around. They might also have to look to restrict Messi.
- Long balls towards the wings to Drenthe or Valdez to run behind the defense. They can provide plenty of problems for Barca’s defense.
- Counter attacking at speed is vital and they are capable of doing it.
Probable Starting Eleven: Calata, Cortes, Rodriguez, Pamarot, Romero, Rufete, Tapia, Fritzler, Drenthe, Valdez, Trezeguet
It was one of those days at the Camp Nou which remains the only defeat till date in this season for the Catalan club. Since then they have managed an astonishing season smashing records on their way. But somehow this game seems to be a nervous affair for the team from Barcelona. They enter this match as the firm favorites, yet there is a small psychological factor which they need to overcome on 29th January.
Pep Guardiola started with Villa, Adriano and Mascherano in their first round match which back fired. Given that they all were new to the squad, they clearly lacked the understanding and the fluidity associated with the team. The squad is more cohesive now and all the new signings have bonded well with the system. This time around, the contest will be more interesting. Villa played more centrally initially and has now permanently moved to the left side and has given the much needed width to stretch a parked bus. Barca’s strategy will remain the same but they will have to be more creative to open up Hercules’s defense.
Barca will be without Puyol, Bojan and Jeffren. Fontas and Nolito have been called up from the B team for this game. Pep will be starting with the strongest squad for this match knowing that any small slip up could see the gap with Real Madrid closing rapidly. Busquets who has signed a new deal is expected to start ahead of Mascherano. Alves has been cleared to play again after his recent injury which kept him sidelined for about 2 weeks.
- High defensive line with Busquets shielding the back line; Alves and Maxwell to push forward.
- Villa and Pedro to stretch the backline by playing very wide to provide space for Iniesta and Xavi to find openings.
- Messi to play centrally and help out the midfield to create chances. He will drop back in midfield which will give problems for their defense.
- Busquets will have to keep an eye on the sudden break which might leave them outnumbered in the defense with the full-backs playing high up the field.
Probable Starting Eleven: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Abidal, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa.
Line up and expected pattern of play
- Barcelona is looking to break Real Madrid’s record of 15 consecutive victories in the league.
- Barcelona has outscored opponents 33-4 to win all nine of its away games.
- Barcelona have played 14 official matches against Hercules at the Rico Pérez: 3 W, 6 D and 5 L
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona)
The man they call Pedrito has been flying high ever since he broke through to the first team. He is an incredible talent with pace, technique and the determination to work for the team. His work-rate is one of the main reasons for the successful pressing game Barca employs. He can shoot with both the feet and has a good long range shot in him -although it is sparingly used in this set-up. Along with Villa on the other side, he has managed to stretch sides which give more space for the midfield maestros to work their magic. He recently played the 100th game for Barca and has scored 41 goals. He holds the world record for scoring in six competitions.
Hercules 0-2 FC Barcelona
Barcelona averages more than 3 goals per match and they are creating chances at will. But this match will provide them a very different challenge with a packed defense that will sit deep. Though Vigo is optimistic about creating another upset, the current Barcelona side will be very different from the one they faced in Camp Nou. Hercules will have to deal with a settled Villa and an improved playmaking Messi. A slip up for Barcelona can be costly in their title race.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST