Real Zaragoza v Barcelona, La Liga, March 21, 2010
“He’s the best player in the world, he’s fantastic and it’s incredible to think he’s still only 22. You can rightly compare him with (Diego) Maradona.” â€“ Stuttgart coach Christian Gross.
Real Zaragoza are the next side looking to stop Lionel Messi following yet another scintillating display in the Champions League in midweek. â€œThe Fleaâ€ has now scored seven of Barcelonaâ€™s last nine goals and has eight from four games. Whilst Barcelona are by no means a one man team it is fair to say that the diminutive Argentinean has breathed life into the Catalan giants after a patchy recent spell.
Even with Messi though, the pressure is likely to be on Barcelona with Real Madrid expected to brush Sporting Gijon aside at the Bernabeu on Saturday night and Pep Guardiolaâ€™s side have failed to win their last two away games. Zaragoza have also significantly improved in the second half of the season and still need the points to lift themselves free of relegation fears. (4.38 on Draw/Barcelona.)
Since losing 6-0 at Real Madrid in their final league game of 2009, Zaragoza have steadied the ship after bringing in seven players in the January transfer window. They are now on an unbeaten run of three games and whilst they may well spend much of the encounter with Barcelona on the back foot, they do have some players that can do damage.
The key man for Zaragoza since January has been Humberto Suazo as the Chilean striker has been a sensation, scoring four goals in nine games and chipping in with three assists. The on loan striker from Rayados de Monterrey in Mexico could well be a star at the World Cup and has proved that he can perform at the highest level. (1.92 on over 3 goals, 1.83 to be under.)
Former Chelsea and Celtic midfielder Jiri Jarosik has also made an impact since joining in January and Eliseu showed at Getafe last season that his pacey wing play can unhinge even the best defences. Another impressive player to watch out for in the Zaragoza side is Colombian central midfielder Abel Aguilar and Brazilian Edmilson will be facing his former club.
Barcelona will be without Xavi who missed the Stuttgart match with an injury picked up in training and Sergio Busquets is also a doubt after he was substituted in the Champions League match. Guardiola has a choice of who to pick up front with Thierry Henry starting in midweek and Zlatan Ibrahimovic perhaps still out of favour after his red card at Almeria.
A brave man would bet against Barcelona but Messi canâ€™t do it on his own every game and Zaragoza are a team firmly on the up.
101gg predicts: Real Zaragoza 1 â€“ Barcelona 3 (9.18)