El Molinón, Gijon
October 02, 2011; 1900 hrs GMT
The last few days have been memorable for FC Barcelona. The team responded well after a 2-2 draw against Valencia, last mid-week. Ten goals in the last two games, despite the absence of key personnel in Iniesta and Sanchez, go on to signify Barcelona’s attacking prowess. Guardiola has been tweaking with the team once too often in search of an optimum formation that will see them sail across the most rigid of opposition. Perhaps such a formation doesn’t exist and it’s only wise to experiment now and fail when the latter won’t cost much than to fail when everything is at stake.
Last term, Barca and Gijon met twice and the Catalans had a tough outing in both cases. At the El Molinón, a dogged Gijon didn’t allow Barca the space that they crave for, ergo limiting their chances. The trip to Molinón ended Barcelona’s unbeaten away run and the Catalans were on the verge of losing, had it not been for a David Villa beauty, late in the match. Gijon took an early lead via Barral, who made a brilliant solo run from a counter-attack. The match was plagued with too many yellow cards – six for Barca and four for Gijon.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sporting have just a point after five rounds – certainly not a position any manager will want to be in. Manuel Preciado, the eccentric man, who ruined Jose Mourinho’s 9-year long unbeaten home run last season, isn’t someone who is going to take the ignominy of languishing at the bottom of the table for long. Perhaps this isn’t the right time for them to welcome the Catalans, but an upset is equally likely at the Molinón. Gijon have lost key personnel in Jose Angel (AS Roma), Sergio Matabuena (Valladolid), Diego Castro (Getafe), Rafael Sastre (Huesca) et al. Nonetheless, they have also made few acquisitions and from the current trend, it’s apparent that the changes haven’t gone down well with the Asturians.
After losing the first four matches, Gijon put up a stubborn resistance against Racing Santander. They dominated the match, and had it not been for the missed opportunities, they could well have had their first three points of the 2011-12 season. David Barral got the closest with his shot hitting the woodwork. Undoubtedly, the Spaniard will be a major headache for the Catalans. In Nacho Novo and Miguel De Las Cuevas, Gijon have competent resource in the midfield. However, how much do these players come up with in limited number of opportunities might just be the differentiating factor. “Barcelona are not unbeatable. We have to go into the game thinking that we can win. They are a great team, of course, but they are not perfect,” said Gijon playmaker Miguel De Las Cuevas. In Alberto Botia, Gijon perhaps has one of the better up-coming players in the liga. A Barca youth product, Botia surely understands the importance of possession and his experience might come handy.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Colinas; Soto, Botia, Canella, Ramos; Castro, Rivera, Barral, Nacho Novo, Ayoze, Cuevas
With ten goals in the last two games, Barcelona travel to Molinón high on confidence. However, everything isn’t rosy for the Camp Nou outfit. Talismanic captain Carles Puyol has succumbed to yet another injury. Discomfort in his right thigh might just rule him out of the away-tie against Gijon. Meanwhile Alexis Sanchez continues to recuperate at home, in Chile, and Iniesta has finally resumed training, but is still unlikely for the match. Dutch winger, Ibrahim Afellay will go under the blade for a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee coming Monday. Pique finally seems to have shrugged off his injury and is available for the match. With him in defense, Mascherano is expected to begin. The Argentine international has settled to the Barcelona style of play and is a dependable fix to Barca’s injury plagued defense. Dani Alves and Eric Abidal are expected to begin on either side of the centre.
Midfield might just be a matter of concern and Guardiola might just go with the experience of Keita along with Xavi and Cesc. Alcantara should get some playing time later in the match. Fabregas has slotted in seamlessly and looks lethal enough. Lionel Messi recently scored his 194th goal for Barcelona. The number might just be another one for Leo, but from the perspective of Cules, the 194th goal is unforgettable as it brings Messi at par with club legend Ladislau Kubala. What’s striking is that Kubala scored all these in 11 years at the club and Leo did it in just six. David Villa and Pedro are expected to begin from their respective positions on either flank.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal; Cesc, Xavi, Keita; Messi, Villa, Pedro
1. Lionel Messi is now second top scorer in the history of the club. Although Kubala achieved it in 11 years, he played lesser number of matches than Messi. Kubala reached 194 goals in 256 matches and Leo reached there in 280 matches.
2. Leo needs 42 goals more to be the top-scorer for Barca – a feat which he might fancy by the end of this season.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
This section is perhaps pointless as long as the Messiah keeps playing for Barcelona. When an individual keeps delivering world class performances, week-in week-out, it’s difficult to ignore him in favor of greater variety.
Sporting Gijon 0-3 FC Barcelona
The hosts might be a dogged outfit at home, but it looks unlikely that they will be able to contain the Barcelona juggernaut. Even in the absence of some important players, the Catalans have the potential to come out of El Molinón unscathed.