Camp Nou, Barcelona
May 19, 2013; 2100 CET
The 2012-13 La Liga campaign has probably been the second dullest domestic championship in Europe, after the German Bundesliga. Not to suggest that the quality of the league is causing boredom, or lacks entertainment value, far from it. It’s just the title was pretty much decided by December. At least domestically FC Barcelona were in a league of their own. By assuming the summit of the Primera Division right from the start the Blaugrana literally ran away with the title, managing the rare feat of leading the league standings from start to finish. With the title already mathematically clinched last week there’s very little left to play for, except matching the 100 point record established by Real Madrid in the preceding campaign.
Their opponents Valladolid have also reached their target by securing another season in the Spanish top flight. Not too bad considering that La Liga staples Mallorca are definitely relegated and could be joined by Celta Vigo, Deportivo or even Real Zaragoza.
Team News and Tactical Brief
One of the more perplexing developments in Barcelona is their almost non-existent rotation policy. When fit and available, Tito Vilanova is almost certain to always pick his preferred personnel. If it wasn’t for injuries the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets or Lionel Messi would probably not be rested at all. This particular group has played at least 44 games in all competitions (25 in La Liga), and started at least 40. To put the marathon these players had to endure into perspective, the Catalan side boasted 15 point advantage over their nearest rivals – in December. Considering that the Blaugrana have lost an average of 3 games a season over the past 5 campaigns this is indeed rather mystifying.
Vilanova’s reluctance to rotate his squad has produced a few casualties in more than one area. For one, it has contributed to increased fatigue amongst the clubs key players, and resulted in the somewhat stunted development of promising talents such as Marc Bartra, Marc Montoya but none more damaging than Thiago Alcantara. According to recent media reports emanating from Barcelona, the Catalan side are willing to listen to offers for the prodigious youngster.
However, nothing has shed more light on Vilanova’s questionable rotation policy (or lack thereof) than the utter mismanagement of Lionel Messi in recent weeks. Clinching the title was a mere formality, it was at no point in danger of slipping away, yet Vilanova chose to select the mercurial Argentine for the last La Liga fixture, who was still not fully fit, which promptly resulted in another injury.
Tito Vilanova may be a lot of things, a fan of squad rotation he is clearly not. For better or worse he still can rely on what is probably the most gifted squad in football.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes, Alba, Pique, Bartra, Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Fabregas, Sanchez
The Pucela are already a lock for next season’s La Liga campaign. Finishing closer to the upper half of the league table would be special nonetheless. While qualifying for Europe is impossible, it would certainly serve as an incentive to close the season on a high note. Beating Barcelona though is another matter altogether. Despite favoring a modern 4-2-3-1 formation, that has all but become mandatory for most sides, Real Valladolid are still a rather goal-shy side, scoring just 46 goals in La Liga. Furthermore, they are quite unpredictable. The matches involving the Pucela either become very low-scoring affairs (2 goals or less) or escalate into slug fests of the highest order. Even Real Madrid were recently tested to their limits in a thrilling 4-3 defeat.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Hernandez, Rukavania, Sereno, Valiente, Balenziaga, Rubio, Perez, Ebert, Oscar, Ramos, Manucho
Player to Watch Out For
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)
With Lionel Messi sidelined through injury, Cesc Fabregas will most likely replace the Argentine in the false 9 role. Two years into his Barcelona career the former Arsenal skipper has yet to find his ideal position within the Blaugrana’s setup. However, he tends to do remarkably well at the tip of Barcelona’s attack. That’s probably due to freedom afforded to roam around the pitch as he pleases. At least statistically he offers similar attributes (in relative terms) having accumulated goals and assists in the low teens.
Barcelona 3-0 Valladolid
Barcelona, their manager Tito Vilanova in particular, appear to be gung-ho about matching Real Madrid 100 point record. Even without La Pulga Barcelona should prove to be an opponent too big to take on for Valladolid, especially at the Camp Nou. The Blaugrana have nothing left to play for but the 100 point record. Anything to ease the trauma of the still painful 7-0 aggregate mauling at the hand of Champions League favorite Bayern Munich is a welcome distraction at this point.