19 February 2012

FC Barcelona - València: Another ‘Cup Final’

21.30, Canal+ and Radio Barça – Eleven days after their Cup semi-final duel, Barça welcome Valencia back to the Camp Nou determined to keep alive their hopes of regaining the league title.

It's not a Cup tie but it might just as well be. Tonight, FC Barcelona needs another win against Valencia, the same opponent they knocked out of the Cup eleven days ago, in order to maintain their chances of winning La Liga. Barça are 13 points off top spot after Real Madrid's win defeat on Saturday and urgently need the points from tonight's game to keep in touch with the league leaders.

Josep Guardiola has a total of 20 players to choose from, 16 from the senior squad (Villa, Afellay and Fontàs are still out injured while Mascherano and Alves are serving match bans), plus four players from Barça B. The good news is that Seydou Keita is once again available after missing the last eleven matches due to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Xavi, Busquets and Adriano, who all had slights knocks on Thursday and trained separately from the main group, should be available but will remain a doubt until the last moment. Montoya, Bartra, Muniesa and Tello could also find themselves on the final squad list.

What ever happens, Guardiola will be forced to field a changed side from the one that defeated Valencia in the return leg of the Cup semi-final. Without Alves (though he didn't feature in the starting line-up in the Cup) and Mascherano, the main doubt in Guardiola's mind will be focussed on the back four, where three players -Piqué, Puyol and Abidal - would appear to be guaranteed a place. The defensive quartet could be made up by any of Montoya, Bartra or Muniesa, or indeed Busquets or Adriano, assuming they're fully fit.

Valencia boss Unai Emery will also be fielding a different team. He looks set to welcome back his first choice striker, Roberto Soldado, who dropped out of the squad for the Cup match at the last moment. However, the manager will be without Barragán and Ever Banega, both of whom have right knee problems. Unai Emery has brought 21 players with him to Barcelona and will be looking to improve on their last outing in the Cup. But they'll be up against a Barça side who are determined to stay in the hunt for the league title. (via FCBarcelona.com)