Barcelona entertain Cordoba tomorrow at the Camp Nou in what will be the second of three consecutive home games for the Blaugrana. With a 2-0 aggregate lead, Barcelona are heavy favourites to book their place in the quarter-finals, where Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga lie in wait. The visitors on the other hand have mustered just one win in their last nine matches, and travel to the Camp Nou off the back of a disappointing stalemate with struggling Mirandes. Will Cordoba be able to end their slump with a shock win tomorrow, or will David Villa and company coast to another comfortable victory?
While Barcelona head into the game with no new injury concerns, it has emerged that the Blaugrana will be without head coach Tito Vilanova, who is missing out through medical reasons. As a result, Jordi Roura will take charge of a Barca team that will be missing Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Pedro Rodriguez – who scored a brace in the weekend’s win over Espanyol. However, there is no cause for concern; the quartet are simply being rested – possibly with Sunday’s trip to Malaga in mind.
While Victor Valdés has made the final squad for tomorrow’s match, he is not expected to play a part, meaning that Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal for the fifth time this season. Surprisingly enough, Pinto – with three clean sheets in four starts – boasts a better record between the sticks than Valdés, even if his performances have been a little more "unpredictable".
In defense, Roura will probably opt to hand a start to Martin Montoya, who has seen limited action in recent weeks. The Catalan has been impressive thus far this season, but with both Dani Alves and Adriano to contend with, Montoya hasn’t seen as many minutes as one might have hoped. That makes this match that little bit more important for him – which is important in a situation like this, where players could easily become complacent.
At centre-back, I expect to see Marc Bartra partner Javier Mascherano, although Alex Song could see some minutes. The Cameroonian has been something of a failure since arriving from Arsenal, but he probably does deserve more time on the field than he is currently seeing – and if that means settling for a spot at centre-half in a match against Cordoba, then so be it. At left-back, Jordi Alba could start, but faces competition from both Montoya and Adriano. That could force Roura into a reshuffle at right-back, but that should be preferable to Alba starting yet another match.
Sergio Busquets may start at pivote, although both Alex Song and Jonathan dos Santos are capable of filling in that holding role. Even Sergi Roberto could start at pivote – but I would opt for JDS. If the Mexican doesn’t start, then Song is the obvious choice – and that might force Jonathan to start looking for a move away from the Camp Nou, be it on loan, or permanently. Without Xavi and Iniesta, I suspect that Thiago is a shoe-in to start, and the final midfield spot could therefore go to one of a few candidates. Sergi Roberto tops my list, with Cesc Fàbregas in second-place, and I guess Song could be tested in a more advanced role if Roura was feeling adventurous.
Then, moving onto the attack, many will be surprised/angered by the decision to name Lionel Messi in the squad. Whenever Messi makes a squad, you know there’s a good chance he will start, and any time he starts, Messi risks injury. That risk is admittedly minimal, but it’s there, and it worries some Culés. With that in mind, I would opt for a triumvirate of David Villa, Alexis Sánchez and Cristian Tello – but would it be the end of the world if we saw Messi play 45-60 minutes? His inclusion would certainly liven the match up...
Rafa Berges all but conceded defeat in his pre-match press conference, revealing that his team head into the game with Sunday’s crunch tie with Numancia very much at the forefront of their minds. Whether that means rotation from his usual XI remains to be seen. Berges however did remark that his team head into the match with "nothing to lose", and that they want to make their fans proud with their performance tomorrow. Aside from, Vincenzo Rennella, no Cordoba player has managed to score more than two goals in the Segunda thus far this season, and they are unlikely to find it any easier against the La Liga leaders. Former Barca B captain, Armando could be handed a debut in the heart of defense.
Cordoba CF 0-2 FC Barcelona – 12th December 2012 – Copa del Rey
A brace from Lionel Messi propelled the Blaugrana to a first-leg victory, as the hosts put up a spirited performance against their illustrious opponents.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Bartra, Alba; Song, Thiago, Fàbregas; Alexis, Villa, Tello
Cordoba (4-2-3-1): Saizar; Cristian, Galvez, Armando, Fuentes; Garai, Gomez; Pedro, Vico, Silva; Rennella
Where To Watch Online: Barcelona vs. Cordoba