October 5, 2013; 20:00 GMT
FC Barcelona host Real Valladolid in week 8 of this season’s La Liga with the hosts hoping to extend their 7 match winning run. Real Valladolid in contrast will be content with a third straight draw, at a stadium where they last got a point just under ten years ago.
Despite a record breaking start to the domestic season, La Blaugrana are only ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference. Barcelona know that a slip up on Saturday could lead to the capital based side going top of La Liga the very next day. Gerardo Martino, the Blaugrana manager, will also want to dispel the myth that his side are over reliant on Lionel Messi, who is sidelined for a second straight game because of injury.
Real Valladolid come into this match on the back of an impressive performance against Malaga where they looked threatening from set pieces. The Pucelas know that dead ball situations might offer their only chance of getting something from The Camp Nou. The fact that no one expects Valladolid to unduly trouble Barcelona will also enable them to approach this match with a nothing-to-lose mentality.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The problem that Barcelona face these days is that they are not only expected to win every match but also play their opponents off the park. While most teams would be happy with such a predicament, the Blaugrana have to repeatedly face sides who play with two banks of four and breaking down such systems does take its toll on the players. In their previous match against the Celtic in The Champions League, Barca had 82% possession but the Scottish side were happy to let them have the ball in exchange for the Catalans having to play most of the game in the middle third of the pitch. Tata Martino will expect no different against Real Valladolid.
The one area where the Catalans have seemingly improved from the start of this season is their ability to concentrate defensively for the whole ninety minutes. Earlier this season they were guilty of throwing away commanding leads against the likes of Valencia and Sevilla but with the majestic Victor Valdes marshalling the defence ahead of him, Barca have now kept seven clean sheets in this campaign.
With the international break following this match, Tata Martino can play his strongest available XI which means that Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets will line up in a very strong looking midfield. The trio helped the Catalans make an astonishing 945 passes against the Celtic and will look to do the same against Valladolid. Neymar would most likely continue to be the attacking fulcrum of the side with Cesc Fabregas playing in the false number 9 role. The former Arsenal man has often expressed his displeasure in being played in this position but Martino believes that Fabregas is perfect for this role. The right side of the forward line should be a straight decision between the pacey Cristian Tello or the precise and ever reliable Pedro Rodriguez.
The selection of personnel in the centre of defence is proving a fine little conundrum for Martino. With injuries to Javier Mascerano and Carles Puyol, youngster Marc Bartra has stepped up to the plate and helped the Catalans keep two consecutive clean sheets. It will be interesting to see whether the Blaugrana persist with the youngster or go back to partnering Gerard Pique with the now fit Puyol. Jordi Alba is still sidelined because of a hamstring injury so Adriano will continue to man the left back position.
Probable Starting Lineup[4-3-3]: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Bartra, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Tello, Fabregas, Neymar
The last time that Real Valladolid came to the Camp Nou, Barcelona were handed over the Primera Division trophy. They also had to give a pre match guard of honour to the then champions elect. They then duly presented the Catalans with the match by conceding two sloppy goals in the first half. Juan Ignacio Martinez, the Real Valladolid manager, will hope that his charges are not as benevolent this time around.
The Pucelas are currently three points off the drop zone and would realistically want to avoid a thrashing so that they maintain some breathing space from the bottom sides. Their recent matches has seen them swing from resilience against Levante to profligacy against Malaga. Martinez knows that his side will have to perform at 120% and still hope for an off day from Barcelona if they are to have a chance of salvaging anything from Catalunya.
Real Valladolid should be expected to stick with the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation for this match. The only place available for grabs is in the left midfield position between Valdet Rama and Omar Ramos. Javi Guerra, the former Valencia man, will have to try and keep Gerard Pique occupied so as to prevent him linking with Xavi and Busquets in the midfield. Guerra has looked sharp for the last couple of weeks and he will know that on Saturday his main job will be to pressurize the Barca backline rather than look to add to his goal tally. Guerra should not expect a lot of support from Humberto Osorio either, who could spend the entire match shadowing Busquets rather than helping out his strike partner.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-4-2]: Villar; Rukavina, Valiente, Rueda, Carlos Pena; Ebert, Sastre, Baraja, Ramos; Osorio, Guerra
1. Real Valladolid last beat Barcelona in 1997 with the Brazilian Ronaldo getting the consolation goal for the Catalans.
2. After holding the Catalans to a 1-1 draw in 2007, Valladolid have subsequently lost 7 straight games against the reigning La Liga champions.
3. Defenders Dani Alves and Adriano are the joint third highest goal scorers for Barcelona in the La Liga this season.
Player To Watch Out For
Neymar (FC Barcelona)
The wiry Brazilian enjoyed a very productive outing against Celtic in midweek. He constantly terrorized opposition skipper Scott Brown to the point that the Scot wildly aimed a kick at him. Neymar has been slowly acclimatized to European football by Martino and step by step the Brazilian is showing the talent which has made him a household name in Brazil. Neymar though is not the biggest star in Catalunya because that mantle belongs to Lionel Messi. Therefore, he would want to grab the headlines in the absence of the Argentine and a few goals over the weekend will definitely not hurt this quest of his.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Real Valladolid
Barcelona have been accused of being just being efficient in the last few weeks but with the standards they have set over the last few years, being efficient is just not good enough. Tata Martino will as a result, want to send across the message that his side can be ruthless as well, even in the absence of Messi. If Barcelona get an early goal it could be a long night for Martinez’s men. Valladolid on the other hand, would want to contain the inevitable early Barca pressure and hope that Guerra can put away the one chance he might get in the match. But this is easier said than done against the Blaugrana, especially at the Camp Nou.
Blast from the Past
FC Barcelona 1-2 Real Valladolid