Sunday, March 21, 21:00 CET – La Romareda, Spain
Welcome back, Futbol Club Barcelona.
It is a well known saying that all good things must come to an end, and that they did for Barcelona. The Catalans experienced their worst run of results this season, whereby a loss to Atletico Madrid and a draw to Almeria and Stuttgart were equally spaced out by far from promising victories over Getafe and Malaga.
But in turn, as Barcelona began to crash and Real Madrid caught their fierce rivals, the pendulum of form swung once again, this time in favor of Barcelona.
Exploding forth, the World Champions cast aside Valencia 3-0 courtesy of a hat-trick to the greatest player on the planet, Lionel Messi. Culés were in limbo as to whether their club had truly returned to their best, only for their doubts to be swiftly quelled.
In the first leg of the Champions League Barcelona had been completely embarrassed by a superior Stuttgart. The Germans domineering force in attack and defense made it difficult for Barça to grasp a 1-1 draw to take to the Camp Nou. In the second leg of the tournament, played in front of a boisterous home crowd, it took a mere 13 minutes for Lionel Messi to score and open up the plethora of goals to follow. Pedro made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute. Messi completed once again and was followed by super-sub Bojan, as the two scored in the 60th and 89th minute respectively, putting the Catalan giants into the quarter finals.
As Barcelona prepare to once again enter a rigorous, draining and overly-packed schedule, the roots of their form will be put to the test.
And it all starts with Real Zaragoza.
Real Zaragoza are finding their first year back in La Liga, since a shock relegation two seasons ago, a sheer nightmare.
They have conceded the fourth-most amount of goals in Spain this season with 47, while their visitors for tonight’s game have been forced to fetch the ball out of their own basket a mere 16 occasions. Earlier in this La Liga campaign, Zaragoza were barely worth a breath as the Catalans stormed past the Blanquillos 6-1 in one of Barcelona’s best showings in La Liga this season.
Over 75,000 attended that game, whereas that figure will be halved for tonight’s encounter. The change of location to a home fixture for Zaragoza will be one of the rays of sunshine for a side whose dreams of managing an upset in this game will also be hinging on recent results that show a minuscule glimmer of hope.
The beginning of the month saw Zaragoza emphatically triumph over a full strength, fourth placed Sevilla as an Alvaro Negredo own-goal gifted the Aragon’s an upset 2-1 win. Following a 1-1 draw with Real Valladolid, Zaragoza extinguished any hope of a comeback as they went down dismally 3-1 to Sporting Gijon.
Needless to say, the odds are certainly stacked up against an inconsistent Zaragoza.
Concerns are being raised over the fitness of Ivan Obradovic and Ikechukwu Uche and as a result the two are likely to sit this game out.
Predicted Starting XI, Zaragoza: Roberto – Diogo – Jarosik – Contini – Ponzio – Aguilar – Edmilson – Arizmendi – Herrara – Eliseu – Suazo
If it weren’t for this man the league may have just as well been gift wrapped and handed to Real Madrid, now Lionel Messi is in doubt for tonight’s game due to a swollen gum.
Frenchman Eric Abidal – who was recently looking set for return – is still unlikely to start as Guardiola will also be wary that there is a challenging time ahead for the Blaugrana and it would be unwise to risk the left back in such a period.
Meanwhile key playmaker Xavi trained in the gym this week as he is still recovering from a calf injury that saw him miss the mid-week win over Stuttgart. As a result, he will also miss this match.
Josep Guardiola has never been one to look to future matches and merely takes each game as a stepping stone toward the fixture that follows after it. However, he will unwillingly be wary that Arsenal will await his side in 10 days and 4 matches. With this approaching, he should be willing to accept that Lionel Messi will be rested as to assure maximum fitness come the Emirates encounter.
Predicted Starting XI, Barcelona: Valdes – Alves – Pique – Milito – Maxwell – Keita – Busquets – Iniesta – Pedro – Ibrahimovic – Henry
Stuck behind a flimsy and often ineffective defense, Roberto has been forced to take the blame for many-a-blunder occurring within the Zaragoza camp.
After 10-20 minutes of Barcelona’s ‘Tiki-Taka’ game the defense will begin to falter, leaving Roberto exposed to the Blaugrana route. If Zaragoza have any glimmer of hope tonight, it rests on the gloves of the Atletico Madrid loan-out.
It is to be expected that Zaragoza come down hard on the Barcelona attack and without Messi this may prove not such an impossible task to achieve, thus a key to unlock a tight grasp up front for the Blaugrana is needed and Iniesta will be that key.
FC Barcelona are truly brilliant. Without Xavi, without Messi, they are and will continue to be the greatest side on the planet.
In what may kick off as a tight defensive game by Zaragoza may soon fuse into a goal scoring party by the Blaugrana, as they move one step closer to their ultimate goal.
Real Zaragoza 0 – 4 FC Barcelona