Barcelona v Real Zaragoza Preview
Camp Nou, Barcelona
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Barcelona’s wobbly defense will be given a close examination, Saturday, by a Real Zaragoza side that has won four of their last five matches—the only defeat coming at the hands of champions Real Madrid.
BREAKDOWN: A week from now Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova will finally be able to name both Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique in the centre of defense. Pique, who started last weekend against Mallorca, will play from the beginning once again on Saturday, but it’s likely a bit too early yet for Puyol, who has been nursing an arm injury.
With Barcelona shipping goals more regularly than they have at any time since the turn of the century (statistic courtesy of Marca), the Pique-Puyol reunification cannot come quickly enough for Barcelona, and Zaragoza will be looking to take advantage of Puyol’s absence one last time when they face the Blaugrana in the Catalan capital on Saturday.
Barely six months after narrowly avoiding relegation, Zaragoza are a respectable 11th in the standings and just last weekend won a 5-3 thriller at home to Deportivo La Coruna. Portugal international Helder Postiga scored a pair of late goals for Zaragoza in the win and currently leads his side with six tallies so far this season.
Also key to the Zaragoza attack of late has been Victor Rodriguez, who after breaking into the first-team just this fall has already contributed five assists to the cause.
ESSENTIALS: Barcelona will be without Alexis Sanchez for the next month after the Chile international suffered an ankle injury while on international duty. The winger is joined on the sidelines by injured defenders Puyol, Adriano and Eric Abidal and midfielder Isaac Cuenca.
Zaragoza will be without injured defenders Ivan Obradovic and Maurizio Lanzaro against Barcelona.
KEY BATTLE: Victor Rodriguez will line up on the right of the Zaragoza attack and, unless he is contained, will operate as Postiga’s primary line of supply at Camp Nou. The 23-year-old will be going up against Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba on Saturday, and as Alba also enjoys getting upfield and contributing offensively he’ll need to be watched closely as well. The battle on this flank will be absolutely key.
FORMATIONS: Villanova will deploy his favoured, flexible 4-3-3 formation with Lionel Messi as the “false 9” and Pedro and David Villa to his right and left. Zaragoza boss Manolo Jimenez will go with a 4-2-3-1 fronted by Postiga and supported by the trio of Rodriguez, Apono and Francisco Montanes.
BETLINE: Barcelona 1/12; Draw 9/1; Real Zaragoza 25/1. Barcelona did the double over Zaragoza last season and won the two matches by a combined score of 8-1.