FC Barcelona stands joint top of the league with 22 points from 7 victories, the 2-2 versus Real Madrid, and zero defeats. Twenty-four goals scored crowns Barça as the most potent attacking team thus far, but with 11 goals conceded a leaky defense has made understandable headlines. Matchday 9 of the 2012/3 La Liga season sees FC Barcelona travel to the Madrid suburb of Vallecas to take on Rayo Vallecano, themselves sitting in 12th place with a commendable 10 points from the 8 matches thus far. Seven of the 10 points have been earned at home, with 2 victories and 1 draw, but interestingly Rayo has only managed to score 3 times at the Estadio de Vallecas versus 8 on their travels. The key has been that they don’t ship many goals at home, just 3 in 4 games, which matches Tito Vilanova’s Camp Nou record.
Rayo won’t have happy memories of FC Barcelona’s previous visit, a 7-0 thumping towards the end of the season. Nevertheless, Rayo are a plucky outfit and on more than one occasion last year gave the big teams more than they bargained for. And it may be some time back, but in 2001 and 2002 Rayo recorded victories over Barça, 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. The club’s impressive return season to La Liga last season had with it negative consequences. The high tempo, committed, and attractive brand of football former manager José Sandoval produced did not go unnoticed. Their best player went on a bargain price to Swansea in Wales, where he is impressing. Sandoval then got into disagreements with the club management over finances and direction, and eventually found a new home at Sporting Gijón, who are struggling in Segunda and putting all their hope in the new man. Rayo’s new boss is Paco Jémez, who tonight plans on executing a similar tactic to Celtic apparently based on keeping the ball away from Barça.
The latest story has been 20 year-old Brazilian forward Léo Baptistão, who actually joined the club four years back at 16. Given his debut last week in Barcelona versus Espanyol, the young man scored 2 with only 3 shots on goal. The performance has earned him a start tonight. On the other end, keeper Cobeño and midfielder Piti trained erratically this week due to gastroenteritis. Amat however has returned from injury.
Predicted Starting XI: Rubén – Tito – Amat – Gáalvez – Casado; Fuego – Abu; Lass – Piti – Carlos – Baptistão
Busquets and Mascherano swap availability due to suspension while injury still holds out Piqué, Puyol, and Cuenca. Alves returns however to the team after the club’s medical team cleared him yesterday.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Montoya – Song – Bartra – Alba; Fàbregas – Busquets – Iniesta; Villa – Messi – Pedro
Full squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Alves, Cesc, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Busquets, Pedro, Dos Santos, Alba, Bartra, Adriano, Song, and Tello
Marc Bartra surely earned another start after Tuesday night where his natural abilities in defense immediately created a sense of order and confidence. He was desperately hungry for touches on the ball and despite his young years, took on a leadership role organizing from the back. He could be partnered by Song who needs to be humble and respect Bartra as his leader at the back. Alves may not be thrust straight into action with Montoya available and performing reliably. Xavi may not start after playing midweek and Cesc offering more directness. Villa is set to finally get the nod after reports suggesting a combination of his effective cameos and Alexis’s continued struggles has earned him favor.
It’s difficult to predict what Rayo will do. Last season it would have been straightforward, Sandoval only knew courageous, aggressive, attacking football. Paco Jémez has thus far talked as if Rayo will not just park the increasingly tiresome bus, but when game time comes one never knows. Barça as always will go out to win, will adapt to the game as necessary, and with the fortitude shown thus far nobody can say they will enter tonight’s match lacking desire.
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