It was not overly pretty, but Barcelona can consider Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Xerez a job well done. Coach Pep Guardiola was presented with the opportunity to rest a few players with the crucial Champions League semi-final second leg with Inter Milan in sight. As has been so often the case this season, his back-up players successfully answered his SOS call with Jeffren Suarez and Thierry Henry both netting.
However, there was one exception in Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Since being signed for around £21.5m last summer, the Ukrainian international has been used sparingly by Guardiola this season and on this performance it is understandable why. The former Shakthar Donetsk captain deserves an element of sympathy, as it undoubtedly takes time to settle into the system at Barcelona, probably more so than any other club given their unique style and impeccable standards. Despite this, the unfortunate Chygrynskiy has failed to truly make the most of his first team chances, with his latest blunder resulting in the goal that allowed Xerez a potential route back into Saturday’s tie. Trust should be placed in the judgement of the Blaugrana scouting team, as they clearly saw enough quality in Chygrynskiy to persuade the club to part with so much money to recruit the 23-year-old. However, the defender appears somewhat cumbersome, not to mention painstakingly slow as was displayed in his efforts to track back after he gave the ball away before Xerez’s Bermejo expertly lashed home. Chygrynskiy perhaps deserves the benefit of the doubt in so much as he could potentially excel in another team. You do not become captain of Shakthar Donetsk at the age of 20 if you do not possess quality. Loaning the defender out is possibly an option Guardiola should consider, as this choice has proven worthwhile in the case of Martin Caceres, who despite injuries, has performed well at Juventus. However, in such a crucial time of the season where mistakes are unforgivable, risking the unreliable defender against any opposition is surely no longer an option.
Lionel Messi did not get the rest he maybe envisaged against Xerez, as he was called upon by Guardiola early in the second half to enter the fray in an effort to ensure Barca maintained their lead. However, he and his teammates can now fully concentrate on the impending clash with Inter Milan – a game that Yaya Toure has described in typically poignant fashion as “the most important game of my life.” The importance of the tie has been echoed by Coach Guardiola, who stated: “We have to be ready for Wednesday’s semi-final and we will be fighting to be ourselves.” His comments suggest that Los Cules will not change their style in an attempt to defeat Inter, and that the tactician has enough faith in his players to score the goals that will see Barcelona reach a second consecutive Champions League final.
In preparation for the mammoth showdown, the Barcelona first team trained separately on Sunday, as they always do after a match. The emphasis was on warming down after facing Xerez, and the players will train each evening until Wednesday’s game. The situation was not helped after it was revealed that fringe player Jonathan dos Santos has been ruled out for three weeks due to injury. However, Carles Puyol is the most notable absentee through suspension, but the tireless defender claimed: “I would miss the semi-final every year if the team went on to reach the final.”
The main headache facing Guardiola is perhaps who to plump for in his attacking line. Messi is the obvious exception to any doubt, and the fact Pedro was also rested against Xerez suggests he will probably start. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should theoretically be a certain starter, however his questionable match fitness could dictate that Guardiola plumps for Bojan, who has a goal every 50 minute ratio in his last six games. Internet polls have been running on whether Ibra ‘deserves’ to start the second leg, although much of this doubt is placed on the usual ill-informed notion that the Swede is uninterested, unmotivated and can’t hack it in the big games. Many, somewhat understandably, dismissed him as an empty jersey in the first leg against the Nerrazurri, however, with a little research critics would have realised that he had barely trained for two weeks. Yet, Guardiola still chose to start him – such is the tactician’s confidence in the Swedish striker’s ability to conjure up that bit of Ibracadabra magic that could decide the tie. If anyone knows the threat Ibra poses then it is Inter Milan players – but it is largely up to the player to prove to a worldwide audience that he can be pivotal in matches of the grandest scale, and his chances are running out.
Watch all Barcelona matches live on your computer – click here