Saturday, April 7, 8pm CET
La Romareda, Zaragoza
On matchday 32 of La Liga, Barcelona will travel to La Romareda, fully aware that they can’t afford to drop any more points if they wish to have any hope to retain the title that they’ve conquered in each of the past three seasons. Pep Guardiola’s side has been in their best period of the season, with eight consecutive wins in La Liga and booking their place in the Champions League semifinals with a 3-1 win over AC Milan in midweek, and they can’t afford to lose any ground with the most crucial stretch of the season upon them.
On the other hand, Zaragoza looked as good as gone just a few weeks ago, but three consecutive wins and 10 points in four matches against difficult opponents like Atlético Madrid and Valencia have completely revamped their hope of staying up. They were once more than 10 points below the safety zone, but they are now only four points away from it. Barcelona’s visit doesn’t exactly come at the best of times, but Manolo Jiménez has already said that a defeat would not be a disaster for his team, since there will be six more games where his team will have a much better chance of collecting points. Still, any point earned against the defending champions will be worth gold for Zaragoza and they will not give up without a fight.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Zaragoza are in their best period of the season and their confidence is sky high at the moment ahead of Barcelona’s visit. Apoño has undoubtedly been mainly responsible for this revival. The Malaga loanee arrived in January and is making a tremendous impact, having become the key player for Zaragoza. His pinpoint passes and ability to score from a distance and set pieces have been nothing short of decisive. He will once again be the key player against Barcelona if Zaragoza are to take anything from this match.
Up front, the likes of Lafita, Postiga and Aranda have finally started to show their potential. Pundits have always maintained that Zaragoza were a pretty talented side that was worth more than their league position, and they’ve finally started to show that. With no injuries or suspensions of note, they will try to continue their strong run of form against Barcelona.
Jimenez should opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with an emphasis on defensive solidity, and trusting Apoño’s pinpoint long passes, Aranda’s pace and Postiga’s finishing skills to try and surprise the mighty Catalans on the counter. The goalkeeper Roberto, who has been heroic many times this season and undoubtedly one of the very best keepers in the league, will be a key player in this match, as no matter how well the opponents defend, Barcelona always manage to create chances to score. Zaragoza will need an inspired performance from Roberto to have a chance to get points from this match.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Roberto; Pablo Alvarez, Pintér, Lanzaro, Paredes; Apoño, Dujmovic; Lafita, Abraham, Aranda; Helder Postiga
Barcelona are going through a mini-crisis at the back. They were already thin in that department with Éric Abidal’s unfortunate health issues, and they’re even thinner now after Gerard Piqué’s injury against AC Milan, which will sideline him for a few weeks at least. Fortunately for Pep Guardiola, Adriano has fully recovered from his injury, so there will be five first team defenders available for the trip to Zaragoza: Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano and Daniel Alves. Unless Pep decides to call Montoya, Fontás or Muniesa for this match, the four aforementioned players will form the back 4 in this match.
In midfield, Xavi Hernandez has been struggling with a calf injury in the past few weeks and, even though he started against Milan, he might sit , this one out in order to fully recover from his problem. Up front, the only question is which two players will accompany Lionel Messi, as Pep has been heavily rotating his forwards (bar Messi) recently.
Barcelona will play as usual, passing the ball between their players, patiently probing for gaps in the Zaragoza defense, and they will try to decide the game early if possible. Only a win can keep them in the hunt for the fourth consecutive La Liga title.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Valdés; Correia, Puyol, Mascherano, Alves; Keita, Thiago, Iniesta; Sanchez, Rodriguez, Messi
Key Match Facts
- Zaragoza have scored 27 goals this season in La Liga so far. Lionel Messi has scored 36.
- Zaragoza have won their last three matches, their best streak of the season.
- Barcelona have won each of their last four away matches, after winning only four of their first eleven.
- The revesve fixture ended 4-0 for Barcelona at Camp Nou.
TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out For
It was widely accepted that Roberto’s heroics saved Zaragoza from relegation in 2009/2010. Not content, he has returned to the club after a season at Benfica and has once again been their player of the season (so far). Against Barcelona, Zaragoza will need Roberto to be as inspired as possible if they are to take anything from the match.
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
The Argentine prodigy has already scored 58 goals this season in all competitions. He is now racing against the all-time record of 66 goals in a single season and it’d not be very wise to bet against Lionel Messi here. With at least 11 games to play until the end of the season, 9 more goals is definitely possible and he will want to start this weekend at La Romareda.
Zaragoza 0-2 FC Barcelona
Zaragoza have been in great form in the last few weeks, but facing Barcelona is an entirely different proposition, and although they will fight valliantly, ultimately the likes of Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta will make the difference and get Barcelona their ninth consecutive league victory.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From the Past