FC Barcelona is just two legs away from the final of the Copa del Rey, the stage at which it was defeated at last year. A familiar first division competitor in Valencia CF is what stands in the Catalans’ way of achieving the one trophy that eluded them last season. After knocking out reigning champions and rivals from the capital Real Madrid CF in the quarterfinals, Barcelona seem to have a clear path to victory if the team can maintain consistent composure and not lose focus. What seemed to be the toughest opponent may be eliminated, but the Copa del Rey is always full of surprising results.
FC Barcelona went through to the next round with an aggregate score of 4-3 after a first leg away win of 2-1 and a somewhat disappointing 2-2 draw at home. Valencia defeated Levante UD rather handily (footily?) 7-1 on aggregate, winning 4-1 at home and dominating 3-0 in the second away leg. In the league, Barcelona continues to struggle. The team most recently recorded a scoreless draw away against Villarreal CF and is seven points behind league leaders Real Madrid. Valencia sits sixteen points off of first place and had a similar result to its upcoming rivals with a 2-2 draw against Real Rácing Club Santander.
Valencia undoubtedly has the edge as far as momentum in the Copa del Rey, but both teams will share their problems in La Liga. However, this will mean that both will be concentrating solely on the task at hand instead of worrying about a league title that is largely out of their control. This should make for an intense game, one that is not easy by any means. Barcelona will have the advantage of being able to rack up some away goals in the first leg, which has served the blaugrana well throughout this competition. The Mestalla is never a simple stadium to play in. Neither is Camp Nou, though.
Overall, it will be a tough two-leg battle for a shot at the final round and cup. At this point, Barcelona and Valencia each have something to prove and that will undoubtedly show in their clash. Expect two very intense matches, possibly even more so than the ones against Madrid.
Injuries continue to plague the first team and surely head coach Pep Guardiola’s mind. On the long term, David Villa, Ibrahim Afellay, and Andreu Fontàs are still unavailable. For a shorter period of time, Andrés Iniesta and Pedro are absent. Alexis did have a bit of a shoulder strain but filled Pedro’s spot in the match squad against Villarreal and even played, so is assumed to be fit enough for this midweek match. Gerard Piqué left the Villarreal game with a knee injury but has trained normally since. Seydou Keita is also not in the match squad as he is still fulfilling his national team duties with Mali at the African Cup of Nations.
The 15 first team players that are actually fit to play will be joined by three B team players: Sergi Roberto, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Cristian Tello. All together, it is the same match squad that traveled to the land of the Yellow Submarines at the weekend.
The Madrid and Villarreal game proved that Barcelona have been struggling not only with fatigue, but also with finishing games strongly. Therefore, I expect some new players to mix up the line-up. Thiago should help reinvigorate the midfield creativity alongside Xavi. Tello will be essential in this match as his passion and fervor on the left wing is unrivalled whenever he plays with the first team. These young and fresh legs will hopefully inspire the team against less lethargic style.
FC Barcelona Predicted Starting XI: Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Thiago, Xavi, Cesc, Messi, and Tello.
Barcelona can take comfort in the fact that at least Valencia’s head coach Unai Emery is faced with a similar injury crisis. In the team’s most recent league draw alone, two players had to be substituted off with injuries. Mehmet Topal suffered a concussion while Ever Banega strained his thigh. Defender Miguel is also doubtful. However, two players are expected to have recovered enough to play, Adil Rami and Aritz Aduriz.
Valencia CF Predicted Starting XI: Diego Alves, Barragán, Víctor Ruiz, Adil Rami, Jérémy Mathieu, Tino Costa, Pablo Hernández, Pablo Piatti, Aritz Aduriz, Jonas, and Roberto Saldado.
This is probably going to be the most level playing field these two teams have ever played on. Both have injury issues, both are challenged in the league, and both have so far done very well in the Copa del Rey. The fact that the final will either be contested against third division miracle team CD Mirandés or the Basque revelations of Athletic Bilbao just adds more motivation to be a part of what is sure to be one epic game. Both teams will put up a fight, but if Barcelona can keep fighting until the last whistle blows, then it should be more than capable of leaving the pitch with a solid away goal lead.
Valencia CF 1-3 FC Barcelona
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