Matchday six is finally here, and after this week’s matches we can look forward to the business end of the Champions League. The final match in Group G at Camp Nou sees the current leaders of Spain host the Portuguese top dogs, Benfica. Barcelona have already won the group following their win in Moscow on matchday five, while Benfica need to at least match Glasgow Celtic’s result against the Russian side to take second spot.
Tito Vilanova has, unsurprisingly, left out a number of first team players for the match, with nights off for Xavi, Iniesta, Mascherano, Pedro, Jordi Alba and Fabregas. There have been six players called up from Barca B; Tello, Deulofeu, Planas, Rafinha, Sergi Gómez and Sergi Roberto. Lionel Messi, of course, is in there as he looks to break Gerd Muller’s goalscoring record for a calendar year. He needs two more to achieve this feat (or three if you side with Marca!) of 86 goals for 2012. His double strike against Spartak in the last match took him level with Ruud Van Nistelrooy on fifty six Champions League goals. He is now just fifteen behind Raul in the all time standings, and it’s only a matter of time until he breaks that particular record.
Barca go into the game on the back of a resounding 5-1 triumph over a shambolic Athletic Bilbao side at Camp Nou on Saturday night, where Messi scored twice (or once if you side with Marca!) and the team completed the best ever start to a La Liga campaign with thirteen wins and a draw from the first fourteen matches. Their opponents, however, have had ten days break since their last match, a 2-0 home win over Olhanense. The game sees ex Barca starlet Nolito return to Catalonia, and he will be certainly hoping to put in a good performance against his old team. Ezequiel Garay, formerly of Racing Santander and Real Madrid, will also feature.
It’s thirty years since Benfica beat Spanish opposition, so they will be hoping to put that right this week, while Barca have won each of their last ten home matches against Portuguese opponents.
These are the two squads as taken from their official websites:
FC Barcelona: Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Puyol, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Sergio, Montoya, Adriano, Song, Sergi Gómez, Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, Planas, Rafinha and Tello.
Benfica SL: Moraes, Lopes, Varela, Pereira, Luisão, Garay, Vitor, Jardel, Melgarejo, Luisinho, Almeida, Matic, Bruno Cesar, Ola John, Nolito, Gomes, Cardozo, Rodrigo and Lima.
I expected plenty of changes from Vilanova for this match, and for him to give game time to some fringe players. It’s certainly not going to be easy to pick out a lineup from that list! Here goes anyway!
Pinto, Montoya, Puyol, Pique, Adriano, Song, Thiago, Dos Santos, Villa, Messi, Tello.
With so many changes to the Barca team, and up against a strong and determined opponent, we may see an upset here. This is a dead rubber as far as the home side are concerned, and the odds of around 5-1 for an away win look pretty good. However, the players coming into the team have a point to prove, and so will be up for the game themselves. It promises to be an intriguing evening, and I am looking forward to seeing some of the future stars, particularly Deulofeu and Rafinha, get some match time. As for the score, well while the odds for an away win look tempting, I think Barca’s frontline will make the difference, and they will just edge it 3-2.