Barcelona will face Real Zaragoza on Saturday night, who won three of their last four matches. Barcelona are looking to extend the lead at the top from the two Madrid teams, but they have to do so without Sergio Busquets who collected his 5th yellow card last week. How will Tito react to Busquets’ absence?
The missing pivot
Sergio Busquets received his fifth yellow card last week which gave him an automatic one-match ban in La Liga. Tito’s mind since then must have been fixated on a plan to achieve a good result against Zaragoza without the important pivot. If he wants to employ another player on the pivot position, Song would be the best candidate. But ever since the massive performance in the draw against Real Madrid, Song never really improved and instead looked very confused after being tried on in both the center back and the pivot position.
A natural central midfielder, Song was planned to be a ball-playing defender like Mascherano. The problem is, even Mascherano, much more experienced, has shown that as a defender, he still has a long way to go. Adriano was also tried at the heart of the defense to inject some pace, but once again a lack of coordination from him in the offside line made Ronaldo onside who then scored the leveler during the Clasico.
Vulnerability in defense seems to be the main problem so far this season, but in spite of everything Barcelona still holds a 3 point lead at the top. With Puyol and Pique already recovering, it’s better to let Song grow on the pivot position and let him contribute on the buildup play rather than force him to play center defense.
Real Zaragoza have employed the 4-2-3-1 formation quite often with Helder Postiga up front and Apoño just behind him. Their wing play is very good, which was apparent during last week’s 8 goal thriller with Deportivo and also against Real Madrid. In fact, Zaragoza looked very promising against Madrid and it was only their lack of finishing that prevented them from a totally embarrassing score line.
This is a massive warning for both of Barcelona’s full back. Alba and Mascherano’s lack of communication was the cause of Mallorca’s goal last week, meanwhile Alves has been at fault for some goals that Barcelona conceded mainly because he was far up front pressing the attack and neglected his defensive duties.
Manuel Jimenez’s team is currently 11th in the liga table with 15 points courtesy of 5 wins and 6 losses. It should be noted that they are only 4 points behind 4th place Real Betis.
Fàbregas may lead from the midfield
Fàbregas has directly contributed towards 11 goals in 11 games in La Liga this season with 3 goals and 8 assists. With Real Zaragoza really brave when attacking with their wings, as seen against Real Madrid especially, Jimenez might opt for a high pressure approach that has unsettled Barcelona in the past. Vallecano coach Paco Jemez tried his hand and almost succeeded despite what the scoreline read. Games like those need a directness that works really well with Fàbregas but to a lesser extent with Xavi. In that Rayo game, Xavi ended the match with 70% pass accuracy which is low for his own standards.
That being said, Xavi is likely to play to complement Fàbregas and Song so that Barcelona can go to any direction that the match will demand. Iniesta who played well against Panama in midweek might have a substitute appearance later on.
MVP once again
Despite all the rumors of a rift between Messi and Villa, it is very unlikely for Tito to bench Villa because the record speaks for itself. The trio works really well together and complement each other. Villa is one goal short of his 300th career goal, Pedro is in excellent form in midweek, and Messi is also on his way to breaking Gerd Muller’s record of most goals (85) in a calendar year.
With dropping deep from a false 9 position centrally not working as well as previously, Messi and the team are adapting by going back to where it all starts which is the right wing position. We’ve seen this several times this season, and unfortunately the player that benefits from this change the most, Alexis, won’t be playing because of an injury. This is where Villa’s flexibility of playing either on the side or as the tip of the spear comes to play.
Barcelona has entered the history books, achieving a start which equals Miguel Munoz’s and Radomir Antic’s Madrid. A win will no doubt be the goal every week as a draw is the new loss in La Liga.
|Rayo Vallecano||0 – 5||FC Barcelona|
|Alaves||0 – 3||FC Barcelona|
|FC Barcelona||3 – 1||Celta Vigo|
|Celtic||2 – 1||FC Barcelona|
|Mallorca||2 – 4||FC Barcelona|
Pique and Puyol are both back in the squad though Puyol needs more match fitness to start a game. Barça will be missing Alexis, Adriano, plus the suspended Busquets meanwhile Muniesa and Cuenca are still recovering from their surgeries, and Thiago is yet to receive medical clearance.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Pique, Mascherano, Alves, Alba; Song, Xavi, Fàbregas; Pedro, Villa, Messi
Glenn Loovens suffered a knock to his knee in training and is set to miss this clash along with former Barca B left-back Abraham and right-back Cristian Sapanaru (both suspension). Sapanaru has been playing really well so his absence will be felt.
Predicted Starting XI: Roberto; Zuculini, Paredes, Alvaro, Hector; Movilla, Romaric, Apono, Montanes, Rodriguez; Postiga
FC Barcelona 3 – 1 Real Zaragoza