Recreativo Huelva - FC Barcelona Preview
With just seven Primera Liga games remaining in the current Spanish football season, Lionel Messi returns to the FC Barcelona squad for the first time since picking up a thigh injury against Celtic six weeks ago.
The Argentine winger resumed full training earlier this week and travels south to face Recreativo Huelva on Saturday evening.
Unfortunately for the under pressure Barcelona coach, his joy at being able to recall Messi to the squad is tempered by the news that he has not been able to include Andres Iniesta, who may be out for some time with a serious knee injury. Bojan Krkic and Thierry Henry are also left out of the squad as neither have recovered from knocks picked up in the midweek Champions league encounter with Schalke.
Injuries to key players are the last thing that Rijkaard needs as he attempts to mount, what could be, a final attempt to an assault on Real Madrid's 7 point led at the top of the La Liga table. The home fans vented their frustrations following last weekend's goal-less draw with Getafe at the Camp Nou and the atmosphere has become increasingly tense as third placed Barcelona have squandered a number of opportunities to pressure their bitter rivals at the top. Barcelona's recent poor form has seen them surrender second place to Villarreal who sit above them courtesy of a superior head to head record.
While the loss of Bojan is a real blow, the absence of Thierry Henry, who misses the match with a bruised Achilles, may serve as a blessing in disguise for Rijkaard.
The Frenchman has been playing poorly of late and this column has made no secret at its dissatisfaction with the former Arsenal players overall contribution, and commitment, to the cause.
As is always the case with Henry, his failings are always down to someone other than himself, and while his incessant complaining may not be the root cause of a lack of harmony in the dressing room, he has certainly not improved the situation.
La Liga Review strongly believes that , since Henry's arrival, Samuel Eto'o has looked like a poor imitation of his former self. When Eto'o is at his very best, Barça are at their very best; and one of the reasons for that success used to be down to Eto'o's tireless pressurising of opponents when Barcelona were not in possession. The forward set the momentum for the rest of the team.
As I pause to zip up my anorak, consider this. Two seasons ago Samuel Eto'o made 11 interceptions and successful tackles against Getafe, away from home. Last Sunday, at the Camp Nou, Samuel Eto'o did not make a single interception. Not one.
Eto'o's unwillingness to give of himself to the cause has coincided with the arrival of Henry, and while his lack of commitment is emblematic of a pattern that runs right through the team, it surely has not helped that Eto'o has frequently had to surrender his position spearheading the Barcelona attack to Henry, who hasn't chased down an opponent all season. Henry's complaining and attitude in the field appears to be infectious.
And in spite of what Henry says, he has played in he centre at times this season, but when he has he has failed to offer any sort of argument to suggest that he should stay there.
Yet today Henry has been complaining that having to play on the Barcelona wing is also the reason why, when he does return to the middle, whether it be for France or Barcelona, he struggles. Henry said: "Against Spain in Malaga in February, I lost all my bearings in the middle. I was lost in all the calls, in all the runs. And in front of goal, I no longer position myself in the same way, I no longer have the same reflexes. So that can create a problem.
I hope that between the end of the season with Barcelona and the start of the Euros, I have the chance to play back in the middle during France's preparation games and that I can again make my mark in this position."
This sounds like latest, in a long line of excuses. When Henry plays 'on the wing' at Barcelona he is not playing on the left of midfield, but to the left of a three pronged forward line and he is free to move in to the centre if the ball is wide on the right. His positioning is no different to the position, just to the left of centre, were he frequently used to voluntarily drift for Arsenal. And as for reflexes: a player loses his reflexes when he is not playing, but not when he is playing a couple of yards away from where he might prefer.
Are we being overly critical? Please let us know. Maybe we are looking for a scapegoat.
Whatever the situation, La Liga Review is eagerly anticipating a start for Eidur Gudjohnsen, a player who really has been neglected, yet could teach the rest a thing or two about commitment whenever he has had an opportunity.
Barcelona's opponents, Recreativo Huelva, sit just one place above the relegation zone. However, in spite of their lowly position, they will undoubtedly put up a strong fight against Rijkaard's side, as their hard fought victory over Osasuna proved last weekend.
The Recre coach, Manolo Zambrano, today said: "We have to win three or four matches. It means beating Barcelona, Levante, Valladolid etcetera, etcetera. What we have to do is pick up lots of points, and the sooner the better.
"They are three points that the fans think are already lost, but we can still win them because we have to play the 90 minutes, and then we will see who are the stronger team and who will win them."
FORM GUIDE: Barcelona beat Recreativo 3-0 when these two sides last met earlier in the season.
Recreativo Huelva W4 D2 L4 (Home W5 D5 L5) / FC Barcelona W4 D3 L3 (Away W4 D7 L4)
Recre central defender Quique Alvarez is a doubt after pulling out of training with a knee problem this week.
Messi has been returned to the squad but is highly unlikely to get his first start in six weeks. Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry and Bojan are all out through injury. Xavi and Rafael Marquez have bruised feet, and Gianluca Zambrotta took a knock to his calf on Wednesday, but all three have made the trip.
Confirmed Squad: Valdés, Pinto, Abidal, Thuram, Sylvinho, Zambrotta, Puyol, Milito, Edmílson, Márquez, Touré Yaya, Xavi, Gudjohnsen, Messi, Eto’o, Giovani, Víctor Vázquez y Ezquerro.