FC Barcelona began their Champions League campaign in a worrying fashion. The Catalan club found themselves down 2-1 to Spartak Moscow at home. Lionel Messi became the hero yet again as a late double saw the hosts win 3-2 (via foxsports).
The defense played by the Russian outfit made it difficult for Barcelona to create chances. Only tired legs allowed La Blaugrana to strike a comeback in that first match.
The second leg of the tie will occur Tuesday in a very much frozen Russia. Barcelona have begun to regain form, and many other factors will play a major role in this game.
Let's review why Barcelona should win this game with a dominant performance.
Recent reports have made known the fact that Spartak will be missing all three goalkeepers (via Goal). This in itself will present very dangerous attacking chances for Barcelona. Without a seasoned Spartak keeper between the posts, expect Barcelona to be clinical within the box.
Goal has also made known that strikers Dzyuba and Welliton are injured as well, while multiple other players are either unavailable or suspended (via Goal).
With so many injuries, Barcelona will be facing a team fielding far from their strongest lineup. A Spartak squad at full strength would be lucky to beat Barcelona; a fractured squad will be walking into a goal-fest.
FC Barcelona have been given a major boost with the return of injured defensive duo Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué. Carles Puyol returned from a dislocated elbow this past weekend (via Goal).
Barcelona had been feeling the gap left by the duo, and defensive issues have been prevalent in the young season.
Coach Tito Vilanova has struggled to find a replacement within his squad. The historic duo will only strengthen the Barcelona squad as it presses further into the season ahead.
The return comes at an optimal time. Standout La Masia graduate Marc Bartra has recently picked up an injury (via FCBarcelona.com).
Besides the return of injured players, a few Barcelona players have shown great form as of late.
Lionel Messi is coming off of a brace against Zaragoza while showing no signs of slowing down. David Villa and Jordi Alba have been showing a wonderful connection on the left flank. And the midfield of the Blaugrana squad has been stellar all season.
All signs point to a dangerous Barcelona squad.
Current Spartak manager Unai Emery is all too familiar with Barcelona from his days at Valencia. Emery has historically not done well against Barcelona. And with all the factors we've seen, Emery does not look to fare well in this encounter either.
The Russian side will also be on the receiving end of great news for Barcelona. Defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets, will be returning to the starting lineup after serving a two match ban for a red card (via goal).
But there is one factor that will play in favor of the Russian outfit.
The biggest issue Barcelona will be facing in this game, however, is the environment. While Barcelona are undefeated in Russia, with a single win and five draws, the continent always produces problems for visitors (via Goal).
In a such a cold and hostile environment, mistakes are likely to happen. But both squads are full of professionals. Though mistakes may occur, Barcelona will be prepared to handle the conditions.
Without considering all the storylines entering the game, Barcelona are obviously favorites. When adding in these factors, Barcelona should absolutely dominate the game. Expect the Tiki Taka to prevail as the Catalan giants find scoring easy.
I predict a 3-0 win for Barcelona. However, the first goal will not occur in the first thirty minutes. Teams have been parking the bus all season against Barcelona, and it affects their play as it would any team.
Spartak will no doubt fight with pride at home, yet the strength of Barcelona will deliver a convincing win with Messi likely on the scoresheet.
Now to you, the readers. Will Barcelona show their true ability in Moscow, or will this be yet another nailbiter?