Camp Nou, Barcelona
8 May, 2011
7:00 pm, BST / 11:30 pm, IST
A trip to Wembley is finally confirmed. FC Barcelona progressed at the expense of Real Madrid. However, after a gory series of El Clasicos, the Spanish champions take on cross-town rivals – Espanyol. Last time these two teams met, Espanyol had not dropped any point at home and the biggest fan group of the club launched an advertisement campaign – This is Cornella. What happened next was surely not expected for the hosts. A manita sealed the face of the ad campaign and also gave Barcelona their second fiver, after Real Madrid. Pedro and Villa, who are going through a lean patch now, scored a brace each and Xavi completed the Manita. Although Osvaldo snapped one for the Periquitos, it wasn’t of much effect.
Team News And Tactical Brief
FC Barcelona is on the brink of yet another wonderful season and with two of the more important cups to play for, Guardiola’s men will be as wary as ever. A match against Espanyol always involves a lot of spectacle and if one goes by the last encounter result and assume that it’ll be a cakewalk for FC Barcelona, he’ll be mistaken. Barca lost 2-1 to Real Sociedad last weekend with a largely reserve players starting the game, especially because Madrid lost at home to Zaragoza and irrespective of the result, Guardiola’s team would still be eight points ahead. This week, however, the entire team should be back, given the importance of this fixture and also the Catalans would like to wrap up the league as soon as possible before they play at Wembley for European glory.
Good news for Barca is that Eric Abidal is available once again and the reliable fullback, who has also done a fabulous job as the centre-back this season, will definitely add punch to the Barcelona defense in days to come. During the middle of the campaign, Guardiola lost personnel more frequently than Barcelona scored goals. However, the return of the talismanic Puyol and reliable Abidal will definitely boost their confidence and with the Champions League final to be played in another 3 weeks, the defensive duo will have a chance to peak. Maxwell and Adriano continue to recover and Milito is no longer available for the rest of the season along with Montoya. Another bright spot is the return of Bojan Krkic to training. The young striker trained for the first time after damaging his posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, against Almeria, a month back. Given Masche’s decisive performance, as a centre-back and Abidal’s recent arrival from surgery, the Argentine will in all likelihood start at the heart of the defense with Pique and Puyol and Alves as the fullbacks. Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should pick themselves to run the midfield and with a defense splitting pass and some scintillating runs against Real Madrid, Iniesta has shown glimpses of his old self. If Iniesta provided the assist of the match, Pedro definitely scored the goal of the match against Real. His immaculate control of the ball and cool temperament is definitely as asset. Villa and Messi should start from their usual positions and the latter would look to add to his colossus haul of fifty-two goals in all competitions.
Probable Starting XI: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Puyol, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa
The other team from Barcelona comes into this match after a hard-fought win against Athletic Bilbao. The significance of this victory would be the undoing of the five-match winless jinx. More good news in the form of contract extension of Mauricio Pochettino, which happened prior to the match against Bilbao, will also buoy the team’s morale, which has struggled since Christmas and are four points off a European place. The Argentine has been rewarded for taking Espanyol from the verge of relegation to the brink of European qualification.
More good news in the form of midfielder Joan Verdu’s suspension annulled, will also bolster Espanyol’s chances. “Barca will win the league and we will also play in Europe. It is an important game for us to try to join the party,” said Verdu, who made his intentions clear. Sevilla and Espanyol, are competing for a European berth and the former face a distraught Real Madrid and look to be better poised to win the race. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and José Maria Callejón have been outstanding for the Periquitos and are being linked to the likes of Real Madrid and other European heavyweights. They would surely want to make a mark and what can be a better platform that the match against FC Barcelona. These two can surely delay FC Barcelona’s title hopes if not deny them.
Probable Starting XI: Kameni, Rodriguez, Amat, Torres, Galan, Marquez, Verdu, Osvaldo, Alonso, Callejon, Garcia
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Fifty two goals. Twenty four assists. Age – Twenty three years. Five more matches left. Ladies and gentlemen, the little Argentine needs no introduction as stats do it for him. With a penchant of breaking records, most of them his own, Leo Messi is an iconic figure. Undoubtedly the biggest icon in the football world sans the tantrums of some of his contemporaries, La Pulga, as he’s fondly known, is definitely the man to watch out for, yet again!
FC Barcelona 2-1 RCD Espanyol
The defending champions should not have a problem winning this match. Espanyol’s attackers however, will definitely look to exploit Mascherano, as he isn’t a specialist in defense. Moreover the desire to wrap up the title at the earliest will also provide an impetus to Pep’s men to push the pedal to the metal.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
Follow the author on Twitter @ anustupsikdar
Follow TheHardTackle on Twitter @ thehardtackle