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PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

It's still only early February, but what Barça face today is one of the most decisive games of the whole season. It's the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi final. With two Supercups and the Clubs World Cup already in the bag, the Camp Nou is now the venue for this crunch game with Valencia, where the aim is to make it into the final for the second year running, and hopefully repeat the success of 2009 when they won the trophy against Athletic Bilbao, who have eliminated Mirandés, and would once again provide the opposition in the final.

This is just one of a tough series of matches ahead for FC Barcelona. In the league they have trips to Osasuna and Atlético Madrid this month, as well as welcoming back Valencia, this time in the league, and travelling to Leverkusen in six days time for the first Champions League match of the new year.

The twelfth man

In the Guardiola era, Barça have never been knocked out after drawing a first leg 1-1, and in his pre-match press conference the manager said he has every faith in the home supporters' ability to give the players that final push they need to get into the final, for what would be their third appearance at the showpiece event in four years. With the temperatures a little warmer than they were on Saturday, a huge crowd is expected to turn out for this one.

One of the most positive notes is the return of players from injury. Xavi, Alexis, Busquets, Pedro and Iniesta are all working their way back into the team. The latter two have been able to join in with team training sessions this week. The long term absentees are Villa, Afellay and Fontàs, while Keita is still involved in the African Nations Cup with Mali. That means more opportunities for young talents like Dos Santos and Tello, who have been performing brilliantly despite their inexperience on the bigger stage.

Valencia holding out hope

Valencia, meanwhile, look more than comfortably poised in third place in the league and it will be a huge surprise if they don't make it into the Champions League next season. That means they can afford to concentrate especially hard on the Copa del Rey, as was plain to see from their last league outing, in which Unai Emery rested several of the players expected to be in his starting line-up at the Camp Nou, a stadium where he has never won during his managerial career.

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