March 30, 2013; 1800 CET
International football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; some enjoy it, some loathe it. Though it allows most teams to rest their players amidst a hectic schedule, it serves to add more of a workload to clubs with a large percentage of international-level players. FC Barcelona along with a few others are almost exclusively comprised of internationals, which means their players are afforded no resting period. The underlying fear when these clubs release players for international duty – injuries.
One can understand why Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand passed on the opportunity to rejoin the Three Lions for their World Cup qualification double header against San Marino and Montenegro. The Red Devils are still in the frame for a domestic double, and the risk of Ferdinand picking up an injury was probably too much for Sir Alex Ferguson’s taste.
The eagerly anticipated return of Tito Vilanova to the Barcelona bench during the international break on the other hand coincided with injuries to Blaugrana mainstays, and Spain regulars, Xavi, Pedro and Jordi Alba.
It all contributes to an interesting match-up when La Liga relegation battlers Celta Vigo host a resurgent, but not necessary refreshed Barcelona side on Saturday afternoon. Whereas Barcelona look to maintain their positive momentum and recapture the La Liga title within the forthcoming weeks, Celta Vigo are facing demotion from the Spanish Primera Division. With a healthy 13-point advantage over second placed Real Madrid it’s a can-lose tie for Barcelona, and a must-win death match for Os Celestes in their quest for survival in Spain’s top tier competition.
Team News and Tactical Brief
As noted earlier Celta Vigo are currently facing the prospect of being demoted to Spain’s Segunda Division, sitting at 19th place in the Spanish championship. After 28 match days the Galician outfit have just won 6, drawn 5, and lost a whopping 17 games. However, while their record on the road is abysmal (1W-1D-13L), they appear to be much more competent at the Balaidos (5W-5D-4L).
Nevertheless, in spite of playing a modern 4-2-3-1 formation, Celta Vigo’s attack is underwhelming at best, having just scored 27 goals in 28 games (0.96 goals per game).
Still, don’t expect Abel Resino to abandon his favored set-up just yet. Especially not against Barcelona, whose defense has been vulnerable all season. Furthermore, relative to their overall scoring exploits, the goals are much more evenly spread amongst the players than they are at Barcelona. Celta’s top marksman Iago Aspas (10 goals) outscores the next four goal scorers roughly at a 2:1 ratio.
Since the turn of the year Celta Vigo have only won 2 out of their last 7 games at home, and lost their last 3 games in La Liga.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Varas; Mallo, Cabral, Tunez, Lago; Oubina, Lopez; Fernandez, Bermejo, Krohn-Dehli; Aspas
Though the Blaugrana have firmly established a stronghold over the La Liga standings, their defensive record flatters to deceive. Despite the fact that Barcelona only conceded 31 goals in 28 games their defense is far from the rock solid unit the statics suggest. In the ongoing La Liga season Barcelona has managed to keep a clean sheet just six times, and only twice in 2013. It is thanks to the unworldly consistency of Lionel Messi and his outrageous goal-scoring exploits that the Catalan outfit don’t find themselves behind Real Madrid, or Atlético Madrid for that matter.
Even with the first-choice center-back pairing of Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué the defense has leaked goals. Worse still, now Barcelona have to compensate for the absence of Jordi Alba and Adriano, leaving the coach without a recognized left-back (unless, one considers Eric Abidal who has yet to regain full match-fitness). Meaning, the Catalan side have to reshuffle their already makeshift defense once more.
While the absence of a natural left-back could prompt Tito Vilanova to employ a 3-4-3 formation, with both Javier Mascherano and Alex Song featuring at center-back alongside Gerard Piqué, it’s not feasible. Hence, shifting youngster Martin Montoya to the left-back position appears to be the more practical solution.
The absence of Xavi should provide an opportunity for Cesc Fàbregas to stake a claim for a starting berth in next week’s tie against Paris Saint-Germain. Given Celta Vigo’s incentive to play an ‘open’ match it should create enough space for Fàbregas to be at his anarchic best and wreak havoc in conjunction with David Villa and Lionel Messi.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Alves; Busquets, Fàbregas, Iniesta; Villa, Messi, Alexis
Aspas v Piqué
While his team is under-performing on a collective level, Aspas is actually enjoying a fine season with 10 goals in La Liga. Pique on the other hand is flip-flopping between his imperious best in the big matches and his tendency for lapses in concentration against lesser teams, particularly in La Liga. It’ll be up to Barcelona’s no.3 to organize the Azulgrana’s defense in the absence of Carles Puyol.
Fàbregas v Oubina
The former Gunner will look to exploit any gap in Celta Vigo’s defense and it’ll be up to Oubina and Lopez to not just limit the threat by the ever free-roaming Lionel Messi, but track the forays of Fabregas too.
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The best player in the world can add yet another record to an already impressive list of accomplishments by becoming the first player in history to score in 19 consecutive games, against every La Liga opponent, if he manages to beat Celta Vigo custodian, Varas.
Celta Vigo 1-4 Barcelona
Barcelona have too much quality, and with David Villa returning to his old predatory self Celta Vigo’s defense will have their work cut out for them. Keeping Lionel Messi at bay almost requires a united team effort, simultaneously having to mute the threat posed by El Guaje is mission impossible, at least with the limited resources available to Celta Vigo.
Blast From The Past
This is the match from November, 3rd, 2012.