It is derby time in the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey 2017-18 as we face Espanyol away from home tomorrow. For those of you who didn’t know, Valverde has spent 2 years each in his career as a player as well as a manager with our arch rivals Espanyol. So it is not the first time that our boss is going to be part of a Barcelona derby in the RCDE stadium but the only difference being that now, he coaches one of the better teams in Barcelona.
Now I think that’s enough jibes at our rivals, so moving on let’s see who we could pick for tomorrow’s game:
Line-up for tomorrow:
Given that it will only be 72 hours since our hard-fought game at the Anoeta, it will be wiser to rotate our back-line as we have reliable options to step in and rest some of our first-choice players.
Cillessen to start at goal as he has been the choice throughout the Copa del Rey.
I would go for Semedo & Digne in place of our first-choice full backs Sergi Roberto & Jordi Alba simply because of the fact that both Semedo & Digne have been in fine touch. Also given that it will only be 72 hours since our hard-fought win at the Anoeta, our first-choice full backs deserve some much needed rest too.
It is all but sure that Javier Mascherano will be leaving Barcelona in this transfer window but after watching his performances, I would be lying if I say he has deteriorated. In all honesty, the man looked razor sharp in the 5-0 win against Celta and I think we are obliged to give him a fitting farewell. What better way to do it than by giving him minutes on the pitch?
I have opted for Pique here because I am not really convinced by the center-back pairing of Mascherano-Vermaelen as it looks like there is scope for us to be exploited in the air. So atleast until the return of Umtiti, Pique is a must in these knock-out fixtures just to be on the safer side.
Valverde in his pre-match press conference has said something about Iniesta, which you will be reading in a few minutes in this article. That is a primary reason why I haven’t included Don Andres into the midfield four. Also to have Rakitic, Busquets & Paulinho means there are three players in the middle with superb batteries and high work-rate. I indeed believe the three musketeers should be able to recover quicker than the others.
Whatever the case with the other three midfielders, Denis Suarez needs to start this game. It is time we give him his make-or-break opportunities and let him decide his own fate. It is better to give a player enough chances to prove and let the player to succeed or fail than to not give a player enough chances at all. So the Copa del Rey is a good chance for us to judge players like Denis, whose future we aren’t sure of.
Now moving on to Iniesta, these were the exact words of the coach:
“Iniesta will not be out for many games. He is cautious, he has a simple overload.”
It is clear from his statement that there is nothing to worry about but the tone also indicates that it is not wise to hurry him back into action. We need to remember that Iniesta is almost 34 years old now and physical issues need to be dealt with more carefully. So it is best to rest him and bring him on in the 2nd half if he is fit to enough to get some minutes.
I am pretty sure I don’t have to explain this one. I would just like to say that in case, we end up winning this leg comfortably then we can probably rest one of the two for the 2nd leg at home and play Paco Alcacer in their place to give him some minutes again.
Assuming we are in control, ideal substitutions: Iniesta & Sergi Roberto coming in for Paulinho & Rakitic to give the two some rest.
Key highlights from Valverde’s pre-match conference:
- In knockout games, we should not have bad moments during the game. They can cost us.
- I did not talk to Dembélé. When there is a long injury, the return is not easy and these things happen.
- Tomorrow would be a bit too soon for Umtiti, but he’s doing well
- We’re in our best moment of the season? The best is yet to come.
- Iniesta will not be out for many games. He is cautious, he has a simple overload.