Copa Del Rey Semi Final: Preview & Team News
Ronaldinho has been left out of the FC Barcelona squad as the Catalans play host to Valencia at the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey semi final. The home side must be considered firm favourites to win the tie and progress through to the final....
A convincing win over Valencia in the cup would mean that Frank Rijkaard’s side has a realistic chance of silverware this season with the club still competitive in three competitions. There is a renewed sense of optimism in Barcelona following last weeks Champions league 3-2 win at Celtic and Sunday’s 5-1 victory over Levante that leaves the Catalan club just 2 points away from the top of the Spanish league.
After last season’s unsuccessful and trophy-less campaign, the Copa Del Rey is perhaps being more highly prized by the Catalans than it would otherwise have been.
The main concern for Rijkaard would appear to the challenge of keeping his players fresh for a realistic assault on all three fronts and as Silvinho told the press yesterday “We are playing for three different titles in eight or 10 days. There are three months of competition remaining and every game is a final. We need to take a different approach with the cup and the Champions League.”
That different approach has led to Rijkaard leaving Ronaldinho out of his 16 man squad. The Brazilian is being eased back to full fitness and it is clear that the Dutch coach is aiming to have him in peak condition for the club’s remaining league and Champions League fixtures. Giovani, Sylvinho and Gudjohnsen have also been rested, whilst Rafa Marquez has also been omitted through injury. Deco and Henry return to the squad after missing the Levante game at the weekend.
Barcelona Squad: Valdés, Pinto, Thuram, Milito, Puyol, Zambrotta, Abidal, Touré Yaya, Edmílson, Deco, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Messi, Eto'o y Bojan.
In contrast to Barcelona, Valencia are struggling. Admittedly they have gone four matches without defeat, but they still look a long way short of convincing and events off the field continue to provide an unwanted distraction.
Ronald Koeman remains upbeat following his side’s frustrating home draw with Recreativo at the weekend and the Dutchman said after the match that "From the first minute we played very well, we controlled the game and we created a lot of excellent chances, but we didn't have any luck. It was our best game at home and the applause from the fans proved that."
In Valencia’s favour is their decent away record and the fact that this competition represent’s the clubs best hope of European football next season (the winners are guaranteed a UEFA Cup spot). Tomorrow’s game may help rediscover some of their old vigour and the competition may prove to be a very welcome and liberating distraction from recent events and the pressures of the Mestalla.
The home side are unbeaten in ten, and have won five of their last six matches and Koeman is aware that seven places and 19points separate Barcelona and Valencia in the league. He is therefore realistic about his objectives in the first leg at the Camp Nou. The Valencia coach said “We have to get a result that keeps our hopes alive for the return leg on March 20th. Our defensive aspect will be far more important than it was against Recreativo because in footballing terms, Barcelona are the best there is.”
There is every suggestion that Valencia will attempt to stifle Barcelona’s passing game while seeking to hit the home side on the counterattack, as Koeman said “we have to keep things very tight, mark them well and try to move into the space behind them the second they lose possession.”
Valencia have been late in naming their squad and it is unavailable at the time of writing. However, Carlos Marchena, Ruben Baraja, Alexis Ruano, Fernando Morientes and Luis Miguel are all definitely missing through injury. The good news for Valencia is that David Villa and Ivan Helguera return to the squad after serving one-match suspensions at the weekend.