Tito Vilanova takes his FC Barcelona squad into the Copa del Rey Tuesday for the first time as team manager against Deportivo Alavés SAD. This round of 32 fixture promises to allow plenty of peripheral blaugrana to make an impact in front of Vilanova and the crowd at the 19,900-capacity Mendizorroza stadium in the city of Vitoria.
Both the first and last trophies of the Guardiola era, the Copa del Rey has eluded the club’s grasp all but twice in the last decade. And while Barcelona remains the most successful club in the competition’s history with 26 titles, the inclusion of hungry second and third division clubs and the inherent trickiness of home and away fixtures can make winning this tournament quite a task for any team.
As the winter break draws nearer, so too do the complexities of fatigue and squad selection. It is with these in mind that has certainly affected Vilanova’s squad selection.
“I’m going to approach this Cup tie with the most competitive team possible to get a good result,” Vilanova said.
With eight matches in three competitions in the next 30 days, the depth of the squad will certainly be tested. Vilanova’s faith in many of his B teamers will also be a central topic, as Marc Bartra, Cristian Tello and Sergi Roberto all make the trip to Vitoria to battle for an away leg victory alongside keeper Jose Manuel Pinto.
Sixteen players will travel with the coach but of those, many will be given time to themselves in Barcelona. Victor Valdes, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Jordi Alba and Pedro will all be left behind while the rest of the squad goes out west to the Basque Country.
The ever-risky Barcelona high line looked at ease against Rayo Vallecano but quite vulnerable to Celtic. Montoya and Bartra provided confidence and good ability snuffing out attacks and through balls. Alba is proving to be a tremendous asset and Adriano looks more and more comfortable as a starter.
In midfield we can probably expect Alex Song to get a shot at defensive midfield, while Iniesta, who rested against Rayo Vallecano, will probably dictate pace from midfield alongside Fabregas or Sergi Roberto. In attack expect Vilanova to call on Alexis Sanchez along with David Villa and Tello.
Prediction: Barcelona’s success at this stage of the competition in recent years put the squad in good shape to take a comfortable aggregate lead to Camp Nou. Expect some folks who have not been shining thus far to step it up.
Predicted Starting XI: Pinto; Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Song; Iniesta, Sergi Roberto; Sanchez, Villa, Tello
FC Barcelona 4-0 Deportivo Alaves SAD
Source: FC Barcelona