Camp Nou, Barcelona
17 March, 2013; 21:00 hrs CET
Finally FC Barcelona is getting back on track and the stunning comeback against AC Milan. The 2-goal deficit perhaps was a good thing to have spurred Leo and co. and they stepped up when it mattered. It’s quite funny, that when ruled out, Leo makes a stunning comeback and proves his critics wrong. They said he couldn’t score against tall and physical English teams, and he scored against Manchester United, not once but in two Champions League finals. They said he struggled against Italian sides and he led the resurrection against AC Milan with 2 goals of the highest quality, especially the first one where he had little or no space. With 51 goals and 11 assists, this season, Leo looks to re-write history books, yet again.
Last time these two teams met, Barcelona scored 5 goals with Leo scoring a brace Xavi, Villa and Fabregas on the score sheet. It was a match of sheer dominance and Barca got their third Manita of the season.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Carles Puyol is injured, yet again and perhaps it’s time to draw the curtain on his illustrious career. With three Champions League, six domestic leagues, one world cup and Euro, Puyol is perhaps one of the most illustrious players in the history of the game. His loss will surely prove to be a big blow for the Catalans. Out for 6-8 weeks, one might just hope to see him in the later stages of the season or perhaps he can make a quick recovery, like he usually does. The good news however, is the comeback of the Messi-Villa-Pedro trio and the rollback to the Guardiola tactics. Villa’s movement to the centre perhaps aids Leo because it is without any doubt the most marked player on the planet right now – much more than Cristiano Ronaldo. On an average, 3-4 players mark Leo every match and ate addition of Villa to block these players is helping the Argentine.
Villa’s presence in the centre brings Messi more into the game as it helps reduce the number of people on him and allows him to drop
deep and dictate play to his liking. Pedro on the flanks offers width and puts the defense in a dilemma. In the midfield Xavi will be missing and this is the perfect time to bring Alcantara back into the scheme of things and nurture him as the next midfield star. Cesc Fabregas has been a conundrum and his success is perhaps related to the presence of Vilanova in the dressing room. Roura perhaps will wait to play Cesc till the arrival of the manager. Busquets, despite being underrated is perhaps the most vital cog in the Barcelona midfield and in the game against Milan he showed that he is perhaps the world’s best in his position. His passing, snatching and retaining abilities are unparalleled and in the match against Rayo, he is expected to play the way he does best. In defense, Mascherano will slot in for Puyol. While he has improved a lot in defense, he still has the reckless streak in him to go for a challenge when he can do better with just containing the offensive player he’s pitted against. Alba and Alves (now a blonde), will offer width and pace on either side of the pitch, much to the chagrin of the opposition.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Villa, Pedro.
Rayo is expected to field a 4-2-3-1 line-up with the intention of containing the hosts with as many as 6 defenders, when the 2 pivots drop back to defend further. They are not in the best of shapes with as many as 5 players unavailable – partly due to injury and partly due to suspension. Up front, Chori Dominguez is expected to serve as the lone striker with Lass, Piti and Carlos behind to aid him in offense. The double pivot comprising Galvez and Trashorras will be defending more than offering balance. They are expected to drop back further to aid Amat and Figueras, the two centre back. This will allow the fullbacks, Tito and Nacho to track the wide players of Barcelona.
The loss of Jose Cassado due to suspension will render them a little weak on the left side and that is where Alves and Leo are expected to link-up and challenge Rayo. It will be difficult for Nacho to deal with either of them due to his lack of experience. Javi Fuego the vital defensive midfielder is also not available because of a red card and his unavailability will not help Rayo. His ability to be the fulcrum at the centre has been decisive for Rayo and his absence will mean that the Barcelona midfielders will get more space to dictate the tempo of the game. However, the interesting thing is that Rayo manager, Paco Jemez claimed that his players got the red cards intentionally to be available for the matches at the later stages of the league, and survive the season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Tito, Amat, Figueras, Nacho; Trashorras, Galvez; Lass, Piti, Carlos; Dominguez.
1. Lionel Messi has scored 40 goals in La Liga this season, Rayo has scored 36
2. Away from home Rayo have played 13 games and have won only 4. At home, Barca have played 13 and won 12.
3. Carles Puyol has suffered the 36th injury in his illustrious career – that’s more than one injury per season.
Player To Watch Out for
David Villa (FC Barcelona)
While it is difficult to focus on anybody on the pitch when Lionel Messi is playing, but David Villa’s case is different. While he’s been on the fringes for quite some time, he has been decisive whenever he has played and his performance of late might not have been like the ones before his injury, but have put the Barca admin in serious concern to extend his contract and stop him from moving to a club with more playing opportunities.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Rayo Vallecano
Barcelona haven’t had a clean sheet in a long time till the match against Deportivo last weekend. This is perhaps due to the distraction Victor Valdes had with the speculation about his future. Pinto, despite being not as good as Valdes will be more focussed and allow Barcelona a clean sheet.