The league is back. With a great result against Shakhtar under the team's belts they have the task of keeping the gap at 8 points, ahead of next week's El Clasico.
Today, Almeria face the unfortunate task of travelling to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona. Following on from the previews we did for the Shakhtar game, which you can find here and here, we have constructed another Q + A session, all about this weekend's game. Make sure you keep it here at Barca Blaugranes at kick-off and participate in our Live Game Thread.
This preview is brought to you by the Blaugranes team (Me, Bostjan Cernensek, Shehryar Khan, Gabriel Roberts & Adi-Oula Sebastian).
With the 1-0 win at Villarreal, Jose Mourinho thinks the league is over. Do you agree?
Shehryar Khan: It certainly is. With the kind of form Barcelona is, it's nearly an impossible task.
Bostjan Cernensek: It's hard not to, but it's a dangerous spot to be in. I think the players (and Pep) are saying all the right things right now. They are saying it is not over yet and they are somewhat right, as they can't afford to get to comfortable andto complacent. The title race can still get close, especially if Real Madrid win the (League) El Clasico, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Real Madrid lift the trophy at the end of the season.
Arron Duckling: Mathmatically? No. But realistically it is. Real are still dangerous, and Barca cannot afford to take any liberties with their lead, but considering that Real are still in the Champions League, I think that the league will be seen as a good place to rest players. Couple that in with their tough schedule, and the Blaugrana could well win the league by a handsome margin.
Gabriel Roberts: Jose Mourinho is right. Barcelona is too well coached—and Madrid's remaining schedule is too tuff—for them not to win La Liga.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: There’s a wonderful phrase "it ain’t over until it’s over". As long as Real Madrid have the mathematical chance of winning the title it would be foolish to celebrate the title just yet.
Almeria have appointed Roberto Olabe this week as their new manager. Will this have any significant bearing on Saturday's game?
Gabriel Roberts: A coaching change almost always has an immediate positive impact on a team's play. Almeria may be extra motivated, but they've still got no chance against Barcelona in the Camp Nou.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: Usually, new coaches tend to do well in their debut game but very few have face Pep Guardiola’s team in their first match. Although one cannot expect another drubbing I reckon a 3-0 victory for FC Barcelona is more than realistic.
Bostjan Cernensek: It's tough to predict what a managerial change will bring (anybody remember Inter vs Schalke?). Teams more often than not play better than they are supposed to immediately after the change, but with the talent Almería have I can't imagine them leaving Barcelona with a favorable result. What might work in Almería's favour are the suspensions and injuries and with Pinto's ankle status still unknown, we might see Miño start in net.
Shehryar Khan: Significance, No. I think Barcelona's winning this one handsomely. The players however would be motivated, all trying to impress their boss.
Arron Duckling: Obviously it will have an impact, but I can only see Almeria going ultra-defensive. After all, who wants to start their reign with a thrashing? The players will try to show what they can do, but at the Camp Nou, with low confidence? I don’t think they will get much chance.
The last time these teams faced each other in the league it was 0-8 in Barcelona's favour. Do you think another thrashing is on the cards, especially after the match on Wednesday?
Bostjan Cernensek: I don't. Pep will probably rest a few important players to start with, so this won't be Barcelona's best available team. I see that 0-8 game as an anomaly and not a result Barcelona would go after from the start. There is also the unwritten rule in Spain you shouldn't "play hard" after your lead stands at five goals, so Barcelona surely won't break that "rule" twice against the same team.
Shehryar Khan: That 8-0 is one of a kind achievement. I'm still thinking they'll score 3 to 5 goals.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: As I have stated earlier, I don’t think the audience will be treated to another 8-0 or even a Manita (5-0). Understandably the spirits are high but with both, David Villa & Lionel Messi off form it’s just not in the cards.
Arron Duckling: Ideally yes, though once you take injuries, suspensions, lack of form etc, into consideration, there is almost no chance of a 5-0, let alone 8-0.
Gabriel Roberts: I don't think so. Barcelona should win comfortably, but Pep will most likely start a group of 11 that have never played together, so goals might not come so easily.
There has been a lot of talk about the "goal drought" for the front three, and Villa has openly admitted that his club form is "a concern". How worried are you about this with El Clasico(s) on the horizon?
Arron Duckling: Hugely. Messi has now gone 5 games without a goal, and this should be a huge concern to everyone involved with the team. La Pulga needs to be in top form before El Clasico, today’s game seems like a great time to regain that form. Villa is also a concern, but he is experienced enough to know what to do in these situations. Remember how clinical Barca were in El Clasico too?
Adi-Oula Sebastian: Very! Ilker Casillas is one of the finest goalkeepers around and if Barca doesn’t take their chances they will be punished. Don’t expect Cristiano Ronaldo or an in-form Karim Benzema to waste a glorious opportunity a la Shakhtar Donetsk.
Gabriel Roberts: I'll take a goal drought from the strikers over the rest of the squad any day (provided the scoring continues at its present pace). Messi, Villa, and Pedro will score when the opportunity presents itself, and otherwise happily drop dimes to the rest of the squad (see: Keita, 4-1 Shakhtar).
Shehryar Khan: Not worried at all. Like Pep said 'if the front three don't score, all others will'. And our boys are pretty charged up when they play Real Madrid! Bring it on.
Bostjan Cernensek: Because Pedro only just returned from injury and Bojan has actually been scoring, I'm only going to include Messi and Villa in this drought conversation. Despite the drought, Messi is playing very good and is creating chances for himself and his teammates, so I'm not worried about him. It's a bit different with Villa who was set up perfectly on numerous occasions, but he somehow managed to miss everything in the past weeks and if he doesn't start scoring soon his confidence might drop to dangerous levels.
Both Messi and Mascherano are one booking away from a suspension. Should Pep rest them for this match?
Adi-Oula Sebastian: Absolutely, Javier Mascherano is a tough tackler and Barca needs his physical approach in the upcoming Clasico whereas Lionel Messi usually steps it up a notch when he plays against the Merengue.
Shehryar Khan: Yes! I think it's about time they gave Fontas a start and put Busquets back in position. As for Messi, I think 20 minutes in the end would be enough playing time for him!
Gabriel Roberts: Absolutely! Messi isn't likely to pick up another yellow card, but this is a perfect opportunity to keep Mascherano out of trouble.
Bostjan Cernensek: Mascherano will play. There is basically nobody else who can play as a defensive midfielder, well there is Fontas, but he might start in the defense, because I believe Piqué is also one card from a suspension and he could be rested. Messi could also get some rest, but if he would be needed Pep could still use him as a substitution. If I was in Pep's place I would rest Messi and Piqué, but not Mascherano.
Arron Duckling: I would like Messi to start and get a goal (or 3!) He needs to recapture some form, and he should be smart enough not to make any tackles or argue with the ref. However, I agree with Sebastian, Mascherano is of paramount importance in El Clasico, so should therefore be rested.
Real Madrid face a tough trip to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao also on Saturday. Could the week end with the Blaugrana 10 (!) points clear?
Gabriel Roberts: It certainly could, although I think Madrid will play very hard. Even though La Liga is over, it's in their interest to continue building momentum from their 4-0 stomping of Tottenham, and Mr. Mourinho knows this. But nobody plays harder at home than Bilbao. I predict 2-3 Madrid.
Bostjan Cernensek: I have San Mames as the third most difficult venue to play at in Spain, behind, obviously, Camp Nou and Santiago Barnabeu. Athletic are in the midst of a fight for spot in Europe so this will be a very important game for them, maybe even more that for Real, because, as they have said themselves, they are out of the title race. The Basques have a very good team, but I think the lead will remain at eight points.
Arron Duckling: Why not? Bilbao are a good side, and Madrid are not the best away from home. Sure they destroyed Tottenham, but Bilbao are a different task altogether. Maybe they could do us some favours and rule Ronaldo and Benzema out of El Clasico!
Shehryar Khan: Quite hard to predict. They're riding on form especially after the Tottenham game. I think the best Bilbao can get out of this is a draw!
Adi-Oula Sebastian: A draw? That’s could be a likely outcome, although should Jose Mourinho opt to play with a full-strength Madrid side this could become another victory for the men in white. But I assume he will rest a few key players, not for the Tottenham clash but for the Clasico.
What is your prediction for the match?
Shehryar Khan: I'll go for 3-0. It's a safe bet ;)
Adi-Oula Sebastian: 3-0 with Andres Iniesta amongst the goal scorers.
Bostjan Cernensek: With the injuries, suspensions and the potential of several players getting some (much needed) rest, I have a feeling this will be a "low" scoring game. My prediction is 3-1 for Barcelona and I also have Villa snapping his drought.
Gabriel Roberts: 3-0 Barcelona.
Arron Duckling: 3-0, with Messi, Bojan and Adriano scoring.
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