How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Osasuna
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Tata Martino could have something of a balancing act to undertake for this game with two huge fixtures on the horizon within the following seven days.
That's not to dismiss the importance of this game, of course. Barca go into the match knowing that a win will see them equal a 45-year-old record set by Madrid back in 1968. Perhaps, more importantly, it's the knowledge that a win will keep them a healthy distance from their rivals (Atletico Madrid apart).
Martino will need to assess the fitness of his returning internationals before making a judgment call on who gets the nod, but on paper, this would appear to be a relatively easy three points to come by.
However, things haven't always gone to plan for Barca at this ground in the past, and as Rayo Vallecano showed recently—certainly in the first half—when Barca come to town, teams raise their game ten-fold. The visitors underestimate their hosts at their peril.
With only six goals conceded this season, Victor Valdes is nailed on for a start once again. A Zamora Trophy to sign off his final season in Blaugrana would surely be a fitting way for Barca's No. 1 to end his ties with the club he has served since his teens.
Given the long haul nature of Brazil’s World Cup qualifiers during this international break, Martino is likely to prefer Martin Montoya to Dani Alves at right-back. Montoya needs minutes, and it keeps Alves fresh for the rigours of the following seven days.
It might be a similar story with Gerard Pique. Whilst the Catalan hasn’t travelled too far from home, the returning Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra are more than capable of containing an Osasuna attack that has scored just six in their eight games.
Carles Puyol’s reintroduction to the side should be carefully managed, and this game comes a little too soon for him, and Jordi Alba’s training injury sees him sidelined for a further six weeks, per fcbarcelona.com, so expect Adriano Correia to continue as able deputy.
Alex Song, who completed a perfect 102 passes last time out, per WhoScored.com, is likely to start, if not finish this game in place of Sergio Busquets.
In order for Martino to keep some sense of balance to the side, at least one of Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta should keep their place. The effervescent and willing Iniesta can work well with Jonathan dos Santos in the middle of the park, allowing Xavi another important period of rest.
And so we move into the attacking third where Lionel Messi will be champing at the bit to inflict some pain and suffering on Pamplona's finest. The next few weeks should give us a relatively accurate guide as to what shape he is in, given that his past few months have been punctuated with injury concerns.
Messi, Mascherano and Puyol Re-Joined to group training. Messi could play this weekend Vs Osasuna [vía @eldiariocule ]— El Diario Culé (@eldiariocule_en) October 14, 2013
Despite disappointing once again last time out, Cristian Tello is likely to be given another chance to impress. It's almost make-or-break time for the youngster who flatters to deceive with alarming regularity.
Finally, does Martino start with Neymar or not? The answer must surely be yes. Although he has travelled the same distance as Alves, games such as these are important for the youngster to continue to develop his understanding in La Liga.
If he and Messi are both on song, then Barca go hunting for win No. 10 and a new record in El Clasico.
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