Barcelona are hoping to kickstart their Copa Del Rey campaign on a positive note as they take on Linares Deportivo on Wednesday.
After a narrow win over RCD Mallorca, Barcelona are aiming to maintain their positive start to 2022 when they lock horns with Linares Deportivo on Wednesday. The game hosted at Estadio de Linarejos in Andalusia will serve as the round three tie in the Copa Del Rey, with Xavi’s men hoping to avoid an upset.
Barcelona have dominated the Spanish Cup in recent years, registering a total of five Copa Del Rey triumphs since the start of the 2014/15 campaign – more frequently than any other team in the division. They are heading into this game as the defending champions, beating Athletic Bilbao 4-0 last season to secure their 31st title.
The Catalans, though, have endured a disappointing campaign so far, with just 31 points collected from their 19 matches in La Liga. They are trailing league leaders Real Madrid by a whopping 15 points, with essentially no chance of catching up. So, in many ways, midweek’s Copa Del Rey tie will serve as a welcome distraction for coach Xavi Hernandez and his troops.
In Linares Deportivo, Barca will be up against a club currently fighting hard to remain in the third-tier this season. The Andalusian outfit is presently 14th in the Primera Division RFEF table, just two places ahead of the drop zone.
However, despite their precarious position in the third division, Linares have been punching above their weight in the Copa Del Rey this term. In the first round, the hosts beat Gimnastic de Tarragona from the same league before qualifying for the third round thanks to a 2-1 upset over La Liga outfit Deportivo Alaves, a club that secured a point against Barcelona earlier on in the campaign.
While replicating the feat certainly won’t be easy against the Catalans, the Andalusians are certain to fight till the very end and secure what would be one of the most famous results in the club’s history.
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La previa de la #CopaDelRey.?️
Alberto González atendió a los medios para analizar el #LinaresBarça.⚽
— Linares Deportivo ?⚒ (@Linares_Dptvo) January 4, 2022
Linares Deportivo have yielded excellent results in recent weeks thanks to a reversal to the 4-4-2 setup. It was utilised even in the last cup game against Deportivo Alaves, and it won’t be surprising to see coach Alberto Gonzalez retain a similar shape against Barcelona on Wednesday.
As things stand, Fran Lara remains the only known absentee for the home side due to meniscus damage. It might be a major blow for Gonzalez, who will be forced to deploy Alejandro Melendez in the double-pivot, alongside club captain Rodri.
These two players are set to play a vital role in offering cover for the backline, though it won’t be surprising to see them receive additional support from the two wide midfielders in Ruben Sanchidrian and Fran Carnicer. They are all expected to operate in a narrow shape, looking to double down on the Barca ball-carriers in the middle of the park.
But the onus of preventing the wide players from making an impact will be on the two full-backs in Dani Perejon and Miguel Marin. Alvaro Barbosa is another option at left-back, should Linares look to adopt a more attacking approach.
Speaking of attack, the hosts will rely on the strike partnership of Hugo Diaz and the club’s top-scorer Jon Etxaniz to provide the goods going forward. Etxaniz, in particular, could be a danger-man for Barcelona due to his ability to find himself in goalscoring situations. He also thrives when given proper service upfront.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Razak; Perejon, Guerrero, Josema, Marin; Sanchidrian, Melendez, Rodri, Carnicer; Diaz, Etxaniz
Heading into this game, Barcelona confirmed that Pedri and new signing Ferran Torres have both contracted COVID-19. But the players that featured against RCD Mallorca are all set to be available once again, in addition to the return of a few key players, including Sergio Busquets.
The defensive midfielder is back from his suspension and is eligible to feature against Linares. But it will be a surprise to see him start on Wednesday. In fact, we might witness the returning Dani Alves get a surprising start in midfield, as Xavi looks to provide a breather for Frenkie de Jong while Pedri and Gavi are out with COVID-19.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 5, 2022
Alves is likely to form the midfield three alongside Alvaro Sanz and Riqui Puig, with Busquets and de Jong serving as mere alternatives from the bench. As for the defensive unit, Mika Marmol could get positioned as a makeshift left-back, with Alba just returning from a layoff.
Xavi may look to rest defensive lynchpins Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo, though, which means prodigious youngster Arnau Comas is likely to form the central defensive partnership alongside Eric Garcia. There could be another start for Oscar Mingueza at right-back, too, following his impressive performance against Mallorca.
As for the attack, Ousmane Dembele looks set to return to the Barcelona attack, in the likely absence of Ferran Torres, Memphis Depay and Martin Braithwaite. The Frenchman has resumed training this week after recovering from the coronavirus and will accompany Ferran Jutgla and Ilias Akhomach in the front three, with Luuk de Jong missing out due to a suspension.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Neto; Mingueza, Garcia, Comas, Marmol; Alves, Sanz, Puig; Akhomach, Jutgla, Dembele
- This is the first competitive meeting between Linares Deportivo and Barcelona. However, the third division outfit has played Barcelona B three times, losing on all three occasions.
- Linares Deportivo have reached the third round of the Copa Del Rey for the first time since the 1976/77 campaign. They have never managed to advance further in the club’s history.
- The last time Barcelona were knocked out of the third round or earlier was back in 2004/05 when they were knocked out by UDA Gramenet. Current head coach Xavi was included in the starting eleven in that game, alongside Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
- No other Spanish club has lifted the Copa Del Rey title as many times as Barcelona (31).
- Linares Deportivo had reached the second round of Copa Del Rey last season, only to be knocked out by Sevilla.
Player to Watch
Amid growing uncertainty surrounding his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele will have a lot to prove. Widespread reports have claimed that the Frenchman is demanding astronomical wages from Barcelona and prospective suitors. However, without top-notch performances, he will not be able to justify those demands, and Dembele will be eager to make an impression on Wednesday.
Linares Deportivo 0-2 Barcelona
Linares Deportivo are not an opposition to be taken lightly by Barcelona, as they have all the tools they need to spring up a surprise, as they did against Alaves earlier in the campaign. However, the Catalans remain favourites due to the sheer quality of the team, even without a multitude of star players.
In many ways, the absence of stars is exactly what makes Barcelona the undisputed favourites as a majority of their first-teamers have nothing to lose and are trying to make a name for themselves under Xavi. We are thus expecting some goals, although it won’t be surprising to see the visitors concede either, especially if Neto fails to show up in between the sticks.