As F.C Barcelona head into the first leg of the Champions League group stages, against Spartak Moscow, the team is riding high off of an unbeaten start to the La Liga season, currently sitting comfortably 8 points ahead of rivals, Real Madrid. Now, as the squad focuses attention on lifting the coveted Champions League trophy, Tito and the boys look ahead at their CL effort, and the journey ahead, which kicks off tomorrow night, September 19th at the Camp Nou. FC Barcelona seems to be in a comfy spot, if history is anything to go by, victorious in 7 of their last 8 European debuts, and averaging 3.4 goals per game, a simple reflection on the season thus far points in the same direction for Tito’s squad, that is of course, unless Spartak Moscow’s midfield puts a stop to that early in Blaugrana´s possible road to Champions League glory.
1. Tito Confident, but Cautious
Barcelona may be the clear favorites in Group G of the 2012/2013 Champions League showdown, but despite the unwavering support from all corners of the world paired with the fact that Barcelona has enjoyed an unbeaten streak in the La Liga season, thus far, Tito remained grounded during a pre-game press conference earlier this evening. Vilanova repeatedly stated that it is far too early to even be thinking about Barça’s chances of making it to Wembley, adding to that, “We prefer results, and every game is distinctive. In football, things can change within one minute.” Those words inevitably opened the door to the standard ‘comparison-to-Pep’ questions, especially considering the disaster of a season the squad enjoyed during the last few months last year, under Guardiola. Tito’s response was a simple one, “You always want to win, no matter who the coach is. It’s something every coach wants, no matter how far back in history”…although the obvious must be stated, if, and only if, Tito can in fact turn FC Barcelona around, and regain that glory that seemed to vanish last season, he may just pave his own path to greatness.
Looking ahead to tomorrow night’s game, Tito seemed confident…considering Barcelona have remained unbeaten in 16 European home outings dating back to a 2-1 defeat by another Russian side, FC Rubin Kazan in October 2009. Playing their first leg at the Nou Camp only favors the Barça side, yet Tito simultaneously admitted that the game won’t be an easy one, praising Spartak for being a dynamic side. Add to that the fact that Emery has handed the Blaugrana side many a challenge during his time at Valencia, this match-up is sure to be a thrilling one, to say the least.
2. Puyol’s Absence Adds to Barcelona’s Defensive Backline Woes
The impeding news that Carles Puyol had been ruled out for 4-6 weeks could not have come at a worse time. The Barcelona backline, which has certainly been the only cause for concern thus far, now faces further challenges without the strength of Puyol. Tito noted that even though the weight now falls on both Mascherano and Piqué, that they would not be playing every game, which means Tito will be looking toward Bartra and Busquets to solidify that shaky backline. The match against Spartak Moscow may be just the right time to analyze that defense once and for all, before the stakes get any higher.
3. Villa, Cesc and Thiago
Vilanova, tightlipped as always, didn’t give too much away regarding his line-up for tomorrow night, but the possibility of Villa, Cesc and Thiago playing up front seems most likely. With the absence of Jordi Alba, who is still suffering a cold, Tito may very well go with this swift and agile trio, after all, Villa seems to be back in stride, and the Cesc and Thiago combination can be lethal, that is on a good night.
4. “Barcelona Are the Clear Favorites”
Emery, no stranger to the ways of FC Barcelona, spoke candidly on his first Champions League Campaign with Spartak Moscow. Stating that Barça may be the favorites to win Group G, it surely doesn’t mean that the Russian side intends on backing down. “It may be a tough place to start our challenge, but we have a chance at paving our own way too”.
With much more riding on this Champions League Campaign for both Tito and Emery, this clash may prove more challenging than it does at first glance. Surely, an undeniable fact remains that any team consisting of Messi, Villa and Fabregas are bound to score goals, regardless of who may be the coach, the truth is that both Tito and Emery seek their own glory in this showdown. A slightly more challenging task for Emery who just joined the Russian side over the summer, where Tito holds the advantage of being Pep’s second hand for the last four years…perhaps this may be the very difference in tomorrow night’s showdown between FC Barcelona and Spartak Moscow.
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