Trading the rain soaked North of Spain for what is predicted to be the rain soaked Russian steppe, F.C. Barcelona continue their European campaign against last year’s Russian champions Rubin Kazan this Wednesday evening. Having started this year’s group stage with a 5-1 trouncing of Greek Champions Panathinaikos, the Catalans will now be looking to avenge last season’s shock home defeat to the Russian side at the same stage of the tournament.
Despite a strong start to the domestic and European campaign this season, a defeat and a goal-less draw in last season’s Champions League group stage to the team from “The Sports Capital of Russia” hints that the Russian side will not go down without a serious fight. The summer signing of Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, formerly of Inter Milan, Newcastle United, and most recently Wolfsburg, has added deadly pace on the counter attack, as well as a ruthless eye for goal. Carlos Eduardo, another summer signing from the Bundesliga, brings more attacking flair to what was already a solidly-built midfield, and will no-doubt keep Dani Alves busy out on the wing with his slaloming runs in from the left. The final international signing of the summer, Italian center back Salvatore Bocchetti, has added some much needed strength to the the Russian back line.
Luckily, very little is out of tune for the Catalans, save the uncertainty surrounding the health of star striker Lionel Messi. His seat on the plane is assured, but it is likely that La Pulga will start on the bench, and come in to provide an attacking spark in the second half only if needed. David Villa is almost assured to start, having picked up a red card at the weekend against Bilbao, ruling him out at least for one match in La Liga, and Guardiola will no doubt want to get as much playing time out of the Asturian as he can. Pedro is also likely to start up top, and in fact the team should look relatively unchanged from Saturday’s encounter at the San Mamés. The return of Eric Abidal will add depth to the defensive options, and is a relief given the injury picked up by Adriano against Bilbao. With next Sunday’s La Liga encounter against Mallorca four days away from the midweek European clash, there should be plenty of time for the team to rest following what should prove to be a tough and exciting matchup.
Match Prediction: A very strong Rubin Kazan will cause trouble on the wings and in attack, but will depend heavily on the success of the link between midfield and strikers. Having averaged 75% possession since the start of the season, the Catalans will not afford the Russians too many chances, and will need to remain focused on defending against the counter attack. A mostly healthy Barcelona side seeking revenge is never an easy opponent, even on the road, and despite some scares on the counter, should do away with the Russian champions. 4-2 to the Catalans.