José Zorrilla, Valladolid
22 December, 2012; 18:00 hrs CET
Barcelona manager, Tito Vilanova, is suffering with a relapse of the cancer in the parotid saliva gland that was first diagnosed in November 2011. Subsequently he has stepped down till his recovery and the man in charge is Jordi Roura, Vilanova’s assistant. Guardiola’s team too had been plagued by major illnesses (Eric Abidal and Vilanova) and injuries (Villa and Afellay) and that had affected the team in the quest for the fourth consecutive La Liga title in the 2011-12 season. This team seems to be no exception. However, under Roura, the sense of continuity will be there as the latter is aligned to Barca’s philosophy to the core.
Vilanova first succumbed to the problem last November and a recent check-up revealed that the cancer had returned. And as reported by the official club website, Vilanova has successfully underwent the surgery and it is estimated that he will be in the hospital under observation for 3-4 days and then a break of 6 weeks. Meanwhile Barcelona drew Italian powerhouse AC Milan in the next round of the UEFA Champions League. If everything goes as per plan, the Catalan club can expect Vilanova to be in change once again for the titanic clash between the two stalwarts of European football. However, everything isn’t gloomy at the Barca camp. Eric Abidal, who underwent a liver transplant earlier this year, has made a comeback. He has resumed training but isn’t likely to play before the Christmas break. This should bolster the Barca defense, further.
Valladolid lie an impressive 8th, ahead of the likes of Valencia, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, in their quest for survival this season. Moreover, they aren’t exactly playing the gritty defensive football imperative for sustenance, but are quite fluid and are comfortable with the ball at their feet – a quality which many teams, especially the ones fighting for survival, lack.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Valladolid gave Real Madrid a tough run at home and under the tutelage of Miroslav Djukic, they have grabbed quite a few eyeballs this season. Not only have their style of football evolved under the Serbian manager, but they have also been able to grab some convincing results this season, particularly the one against Sevilla, away from home and the thumping of Vallecano at home. Djukic, a Deportivo legend, has a keen eye for the game, and played top flight football in Spain with Valencia till 2003 and then with Tenerife to end his career.
The most promising aspect of this team is the fact that they rarely sit back and play an offensive game, even when the ball isn’t with them. 25-year old Patrick Ebert has been their best player this season, but it is the youth academy player Oscar who leads the scoring chart for the club. Unfortunately the German winger is ruled out with an injury and Djukic will have to rethink the offensive trio. With a burly-framed striker in Manucho, the trio of Oscar, Ebert and Ramos usually operate behind him with relative ease, but against Barcelona, Alberto Bueno will get the nod. Despite the quality, Ebert’s cutting edge will surely be missed by the hosts.
Alvaro Rubio and Victor Perez offer stability and balance with their defensive nature and ability to put the ball at places for the offense to take advantage of. The duo usually keeps quite a distance from the offensive trio, so much so that they often seem to be an extension of central defense rather than midfield. This does give teams which are comfortable with the ball some room to build up their attack. In defense, Rukavina, Sereno, Valiente, Balenziaga have a formidable understanding by virtue of playing together week-in, week-out and might just give the Catalans a gritty fightback.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Hernandez; Rukavina, Sereno, Valiente, Balenziaga; Perez, Rubio; Ramoz, Oscar, Bueno; Manucho
Barcelona go into the last match before their Christmas break with Jordi Roura in charge. Vilanova has induced a gritty spirit into this
team which doesn’t give up easily and more importantly know how to grind out results even when trailing. This doesn’t look like going anywhere. Roura is yet another La Masia product, who is there to carry on the rich legacy of the Catalan club, even at such distressing times. Previously, Roura worked in Guardiola’s team and worked primarily in analysing the opposition and given the record of Guardiola it can be expected that the man knows his job. However, whether he is still ready to manage a top side is still a matter of concern, but with a team as disciplined as this Barcelona, a facilitator should be enough till the return of Vilanova and Roura should do well. Perhaps Vilanova’s distress will only motivate the team to give in their everything for their manager.
Roura isn’t expected to tinker with the team. In defense, Alba, Puyol and Pique are sure to start. Recent developments suggest that Adriano is a little more preferred to Alves and after a stellar performance last weekend, Adriano doesn’t seem likely to lose his position. Alves is expected to start on the bench. A primary difference between Guardiola’s team and Vilanova’s one is that in the former, Leo played on the right and had the job to cut in with Alves drifting wide to stretch the defense. Vilanova moved the Argentine to the center and this perhaps means that Alves is no longer indispensable on the right side. Pedro does enough with his pace and runs to stretch the defense. However, Adriano is still quite new to this role to be taken regularly and fans can thereby expect Montoya to get some more playing time.
In this crucial match, Roura is expected to field the best midfield combination at Barcelona’s disposal – Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta. Up front, Messi is expected to be joined by Pedro and Alexis. Despite not quite being the player he was expected to be, Alexis still provides a threat in the final third which no opposition will discount. Reportedly, David Villa is still not up to the mark and Welsh club, Swansea might just fancy a move for the Spaniard. Although it looks quite unlikely and Villa is expected to play a part in the latest clash.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Adriano, Pique, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
- 1. Valladolid (22) have scored more goals than Athletic Bilbao (21), Valencia (19) and Sevilla (21) this season.
- 2. Along with Barcelona, Valladolid have conceded 18 goals this season – Malaga has conceded the least, 10, in 16 matches.
- 3. Valladolid players have received 1 red and 37 yellow cards this season and are the third least aggressive team this season. The top two are Barcelona (24 yellow, 1 red) and Real Madrid (33 yellow, 1 red)
Key Facts Courtesy: WhoScored
Player To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
After recently breaking Gerd Muller’s record, Messi will surely try to end the year on a high. The Argentine has scored a brace in each of Barcelona’s last eight games. His teammates will surely be looking to lay it on the platter for him to shine at José Zorrilla this weekend.
Valladolid 0-3 FC Barcelona
Barcelona will have a compact defense and motivation to give everything for their ailing boss. Valladolid on the other hand will be without their best player of the season – Partick Ebert. The tie looks likely to go in favour of the Catalan club.
Blast From The Past