Barcelona will be hoping to book their place in the Copa del Rey Round of 16 when they welcome Cultural Leonesa to Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Spanish cup football action has resumed this week, with the Round of 32 second leg ties being played across the country. One of the closest battles in the current stage, and surprisingly so, will see Barcelona play hosts to Cultural Leonesa at Camp Nou, with the Blaugrana only holding a slender advantage over the minnows.
The first leg tie at Estadio Reino de Leon was Barcelona’s first in this season’s competition. Cultural Leonesa, on the other hand, progressed to the Round of 32 by beating Navalcarnero, Fuenlabrada and Lorca in each of the last three rounds, and remain in the hunt for a place in the Last 16 stage.
Barcelona’s form since last month’s first leg has been patchy to say the least. The Copa del Rey holders have managed to win just three of their six subsequent games, each by a narrow scoreline, looking far from convincing in any of their outings.
Cultural Leonesa, meanwhile, have been even worse off, as far as their subsequent results are concerned. The Spanish third tier side have failed to win each of their five matches since being beaten by Barcelona, a run of results that have dropped them to fifth on the Segunda Division B Group 1 table.
The first leg, played at Estadio Reino de Leon over a month ago, had ended in a narrow 1-0 win for Barcelona, with second half substitute Clement Lenglet scoring the winner. Ahead of the second leg tie, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa del Rey encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde does have a number of first-team regulars on the sidelines due to injuries. But, most of those players were unlikely to face Cultural Leonesa anyway, meaning the Barcelona boss does not have much of a concern.
Those players who are on the treatment table though, are Samuel Umtiti (knee), Sergi Roberto (hamstring), Arthur (groin), Rafinha (cruciate ligament rupture) and Luis Suarez (knee). Sergi Samper will not feature either, despite returning to training after recovering from a calf injury.
Meanwhile, the likes of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba have been rested for a tie wherein Valverde will ring in the changes, while Inaki Pena, Guillem Jaime Serrano, Chumi, Jorge Cuenca, Juan Miranda, Oriol Busquets, Alex Collado, Riqui Puig and Abel Ruiz have been promoted for the cup tie.
Several of the picked Barcelona B players are likely to feature in a side that will have a healthy mix of youth and experience. The said experience is likely to be provided by Jasper Cillessen and Thomas Vermaelen, with the latter in particular, providing some relief in the larger scheme of things.
Arturo Vidal could start in midfield as well. But, with Arthur not fit yet, the Chilean is likely to be saved for the weekend’s La Liga tie, although he could be called to make an impact from the bench, if needed. The youngsters that are likely to start are Chumi, Miranda and Oriol Busquets.
Meanwhile, Ousmane Dembele and Malcom could use the second leg against Cultural Leonesa as the chance to impress Valverde and stake their claim to nail down a spot as a regular. Munir El Haddadi should lead the line for Barcelona. Philippe Coutinho should be on the bench, though.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Cillessen; Semedo, Chumi, Vermaelen, Miranda; Alena, Busquets, Denis Suarez; Malcom, Munir, Dembele
While Ernesto Valverde is likely to rest a number of key players, Victor Cea should name his first-choice side, with Cultural Leonesa still in with a chance to make it to the Round of 16. The manager is likely to name his side in the 4-4-2 formation that was used in the first leg.
Jorge Palatsi has played every single game for the minnows this season, and there is no reason to replace the 30-year-old on Wednesday. At the heart of the Cultural Leonesa defence, Ivan Garrido is mainstay, with Dionico Escalante likely to be his partner. Saul Gonzalez is another ever present at the back for the visitors, with Victor Diaz likely to be the left-back.
Up ahead in midfield, Sergio Marcos and Vicente Romero are likely to be tasked with keeping things tight in the middle of the park while also recycling the ball smartly. Hugo Rodriguez and Jorge Ortiz will be the key men for Cultural Leonesa, with their pacy bursts down the flanks.
Upfront, Aridane Santana and Jose Luis Garcia should continue to be the strike partnership for the visitors, having also started against Barcelona in the first leg.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Palatsi; Gonzalez, Garrido, Escalante, Diaz; Ortiz, Marcos, Romero, Rodriguez; Jose Luis Garcia, Aridane
- Barcelona and Cultural Leonesa will be meeting for the fourth time on Wednesday, with the previous three clashes coming in the Copa del Rey as well.
- The Catalans are yet to concede to the Spanish minnows after three meetings, having scored eight times against the Spanish third tier side.
- Barcelona have scored four or more goals in every home Copa del Rey match against lower-level teams since the start of 2014.
- Barcelona have not been beaten at home in the King’s Cup since February 2013.
- Cultural Leonesa have not won a competitive game in over a month (D4 L2).
Player to Watch
2018-19 has to be the make or break season for Carles Alena, whose introduction to the first-team squad at Barcelona was over two years ago. While he is still only 20, first-team games are imperative, if the young Spaniard is to continue progressing at a desired level.
A defining moment in his Barcelona career may have happened this past weekend, as Alena scored the game clinching goal against Villarreal. He now has the chance to make further impression with a solid showing against Cultural Leonesa, and should he stamp his authority once again, it could be a turning point for the youngster.
Barcelona 3-0 Cultural Leonesa
The first leg in Leon might have been a close contest, with Barcelona looking far from their best. But, at home, the Blaugrana have not been troubled at all over the last five years or so in Copa del Rey ties. With Cultural Leonesa not playing all that well either, it could be a long night for Victor Cea’s men.
Valverde could also use the match as an opportunity to give some of the youngsters a taste of first-team football. Expect Barcelona to coast through the game on Wednesday, with the promoted players putting on a show. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for Ernesto Valverde & co.