FC Barcelona make the long trip to the Russian capital for their penultimate group stage match, needing a win to guarantee qualification for the knockout stage. Their opponents Spartak Moscow, meanwhile, need a victory otherwise they will bow out of this season’s competition. In six previous visits to Moscow, Barca are unbeaten, although they only have one win from those half dozen matches. That came in a 3-1 success at Lokomotiv Moscow in the 2002-03 season.
Barca go into the match on the back of yet another win in La Liga, their eleventh win of an unbeaten start to the season. This latest success saw them beat Real Zaragoza 3-1, with Lionel Messi scoring twice to take his tally for 2012 to an incredible 78 goals. However, this was perhaps not the biggest milestone of the night. That could arguably go to the reunion of Puyol and Pique in central defence, making only their third appearance together this season, and their first at Camp Nou since the Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea last season. If both now get a run in the team, that is a huge boost to the side, as it will free up players to play in their more natural positions. You can only put round pegs in square holes for so long!
The conditions in the Luzhniki Stadium will not be particularly pleasant, with temperatures a little over freezing and of course, the famous artificial pitch, not to mention the hostile home support. However, this should not, and will not, be used as an excuse. Barca should still be able to play their normal passing game on the pitch, as it is usually only a long ball game that suffers on the overly bouncy surface.
The home side are managed by former Valencia coach Unai Emery, and currently sit fifth in the Russian Premier League, five points off the qualification places for next season’s competition. Last time out they only managed a disappointing draw at relegation threatened Volga Novgorod. As well as Emery, they boast former Atletico Madrid and Schalke04 midfielder Jurado in their squad. Their leading scorer is midfielder Dmitri Kombarov, who has six goals this season. However, they have a number of players who have scored this season, meaning that the Barca defence will have to guard against multiple threats.
The return of Puyol and Pique means that Tito Vilanova has a much stronger pool of players to pick from, which ultimately hinders accuracy on a lineup prediction! I’m going for the following team:
Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Tello, Messi, Villa
It’s a tough task picking eleven players out of the twenty one that have travelled to Russia, but I feel that this will be pretty close to the starting lineup. Jordi Alba will definitely play, as Adriano is missing, whilst it will be great to see Busquets back in the team. It’s amazing just how important a player he is for the side. Tello could well be included for his pace and shooting from the edge of the box, especially as Pedro is now without a goal in fifteen matches. I have gone for Iniesta ahead of Cesc purely on his passing and his ability to unlock a defence.
Make no mistake, this will be a tough match for Tito’s boys, especially if the first meeting is anything to go by, but I feel Barca have enough to maintain their unbeaten Russian run, and maybe even pick up their second victory there. I am going for a narrow victory for Barca, maybe 2-1.