La Romareda, Zaragoza
Sunday, April 14, 19:00 GMT
Days after securing qualification for the semifinals of the Champions League, FC Barcelona will continue their inevitable run to the La Liga title, travelling to La Romareda to face Real Zaragoza. The latter are still very much fighting to stay in the first division for another year and will therefore be far more motivated for this match than Barcelona, who are almost fully focused on the Champions League at this point in the season and will surely give some fringe and youth players their chance to shine in the remainder of La Liga.
It goes without saying that this is a far more important match for Zaragoza than it is for Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean that the Catalans will not do their best to secure yet another away win even while resting key players.
After a truly miraculous late run last season to avoid relegation, Zaragoza are once again fighting for survival this season and are currently one point below it. Hosting Barcelona would generally not be a match where they’d be expected to add points to their tally, but this is actually a great opportunity to do so, with the Catalans focusing on the Champions League and having key players absent due to injury to boot, including the mercurial Lionel Messi. Manolo Jimenez realizes that and has vowed that his team will look to take it to Barcelona and try to beat them, and so have many of the players. A win over the Catalans would go a long way towards staying in the first division and there could hardly be a better time for this match from Zaragoza’s perspective. Even a draw, like two weeks ago against Real Madrid, would be a nice boost.
Roberto, arguably Zaragoza’s key player, will most definitely start in goal, with a back four of Sapunaru, Loovens, Álvaro and Abraham ahead of him, shielded by Apoño and Romaric. Oriol, Rodri and Montañes will play behind the lone striker Helder Postiga, having the double function of tracking back and closing down spaces in their own of the pitch and feeding Postiga with chances to score. As always when you’re playing Barcelona, Zaragoza will need to be disciplined defensively and attack at the right times exploiting the amount the of men the Catalans commit going forward. It will still be the best opportunity Zaragoza could possibly have to defeat the soon-to-be-crowned champions of Spain, as their intensity is bound to be a bit lower than usual.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Roberto; Sapunaru, Loovens, Álvaro, Abraham; Apoño, Romaric; Oriol, Rodri, Montañes; Postiga
For Barcelona, this seems like a superfluous match in many ways: the team have just come off a narrow aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain and will soon take on Bayern Munich for a place in the Champions League final at Wembley, while the league is pretty sewn up, and with fatigue and injuries being an issue at the moment. Lionel Messi’s thigh problems are especially concerning as Barcelona absolutely need their star fit to fight for another Champions League title. It is pretty much a certainty that Messi will skip this match, and that some “fringe” players will be given a rare chance to show how good they are. While apparently irrelevant given the current standings, the final stretch of La Liga will provide an excellent platform for new blood to prove their worth and make a case for a more important role in the squad next season.
Victor Valdés will surely start after his four-match suspension expired and after an excellent performance against PSG in midweek. Jordi Alba wasn’t included in the match squad and he should be replaced by Montoya, with Bartra and Adriano in the center and Alves on the right. In midfield, both Busquets and Iniesta were not even included in the match squad, while Xavi will probably be given a rest. Song, Thiago and one of Sergi Roberto or Jonathan dos Santos will make the midfield trio behind Tello, Sanchez and one of Villa or Fabregas, depending on whether Tito Vilanova decides to stick with the “false 9” concept in Messi’s absence or opt for a more traditional striker in Villa.
Regardless of who starts, the club’s philosophy always remains the same and the team will look to dominate through possession and probe for gaps in the Zaragoza defense from the very first minute, with many players eager to prove to the manager that they deserve an opportunity in bigger matches as well.
Probable Lineup: Victor Valdés; Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, Adriano Correia, Daniel Alves; Alex Song, Thiago Alcantara, Sergi Roberto; Alexis Sanchez, Christian Tello, Cesc Fabregas
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona are merely 9 points away from clinching the title.
- With only 28 goals scored, Zaragoza are the second least prolific attack in La Liga after Granada, while Barcelona are the most prolific with 95 goals.
- In the first half of the season, Barcelona beat Zaragoza 3-1 at Camp Nou.
Player to Watch Out For
Thiago Alcantara (FC Barcelona)
The young Spanish prodigy has impressed almost every time he played in the past two seasons, with a more regular starting spot only blocked by the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. This match will be yet another chance for Thiago to showcase his immense talent and make a case for a more important role in the squad going forward.
Zaragoza 2-2 FC Barcelona
Zaragoza will manage to secure a key point in their quest to avoid relegation, in a highly entertaining and open match, not too dissimilar to Barcelona’s 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo a few weeks ago.