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La Liga: UD Almeria vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

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A preview of FC Barcelona's La Liga clash with UD Almeria in Andalusia, as the Blaugrana look to halt their La Liga domestic losing streak

David Ramos

FC Barcelona can reclaim top spot in La Liga tomorrow afternoon, provided they register a victory against UD Almeria in Andalusia – how’s that for some positivity? Technically, that’s exactly what will happen tomorrow if Luis Enrique’s side pick up the three points, if only for a few hours. Still, it’s a reminder of the fine line that currently separates FC Barcelona from success. One week, everything can be rosy and perfect. "The treble is on!" Until it isn’t, and it turns out that the sky is falling instead.

From a glorious victory over AFC Ajax to a morale-crushing defeat in the Clasico before a shocking home loss against Celta Vigo, back to a comfortable(ish) win over Ajax once again. Good-bad-worse-mediocre. What’s the next step? Rock bottom or a continuation in the gradual ascent back to happiness?

Everyone suspects it will be the latter, but the defeat against Celta has impacted our psyche such that we fear it will really be the former, even if UD Almeria pose little to no threat of actually pulling off an upset. They’re bottom-feeders for starters, without a win in five matches at home, boasting a squad that collectively struggles in-front of goal to such an extent that they average less than a goal a game.

Neymar alone boasts a better goals-to-game ratio in La Liga this season; of course, that’s before we factor in the goal threat that the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez pose. Even if our system is broken, this is exactly the kind of game where the individual brilliance will shine through regardless – in short, there’s only going to be one outcome result-wise and it’s looking positive for the Blaugrana.

TEAM NEWS

BARCELONA

If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it. If it is broke, but you don’t have any other weapons at your disposal, then you can’t fix it anyway. Take your pick for the logic behind the decision, but Luis Enrique has named the same squad for tomorrow’s match as travelled to Ajax in midweek. Again, that means that two players will ultimately not make the cut, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

With an international break looming, there’s not an awful lot of reason for Lucho to tinker. He can pick whoever he likes and as such, it’s going to be difficult to second-guess him with this line-up.

Claudio Bravo will start in goal looking for his ninth clean sheet of the season and is one of the few "locks" in a Lucho La Liga line-up. Typically, another one of those "locks" has been Dani Alves, but after starting a few matches in succession, one suspects that Martin Montoya, or bewilderingly, Douglas, might be given a chance to shine. I’d still choose Dani over Douglas myself, but like many others, would opt for Montoya over both, at least on current form.

Likewise, Marc Bartra would be an easy choice at centre-half alongside Gerard Piqué, but clearly Luis Enrique values Javier Mascherano’s leadership skills too highly to drop him out of the line-up. Understandably I might add; we desperately need that with Carles Puyol retired, but I think in this instance, against UD Almeria, Bravo’s experience and organisational skills will be enough to see us through.

At left-back, Jordi Alba’s pace helped save Barça a few times against Ajax’s attacks, but the Catalan full-back is still some way off his best. Is that as a consequence of the new system one might ask – the width of the central midfielders is quite different to anything we have seen before, and arguably causes more problems than it solves. Is that an excuse though? Is Alba just playing badly?

That’s the trouble with FC Barcelona at the moment. We don’t know what the root cause of pretty much anything is. What’s real? What’s a mirage? Who knows! Maybe it’s the tactics, maybe it’s the players, or maybe everyone else has finally caught up? Not knowing is probably what’s causing the most panic – but I’ve already spent enough time on that, so let’s move forward.

To the midfield! Sergio Busquets probably needs a rest, but isn’t going to get one. Unless he does – it’s tough to predict what Enrique has in store for us. Mascherano could fill in at pivote, especially in a match like this, but if Busi is going to be used by Del Bosque over the break, then will he be rested at all for Sevilla either way? If he’s around and can play, then why not – as we saw against Ajax, he’s still capable of ramping it up a gear or two at times.

Ahead of Busquets, we should see Ivan Rakitić and Xavi paired up again. The Croatian midfielder will square off against Lionel Messi in less than a week (and I’ll be there to report on it all), but for now he’s still going to be supplying him with killer balls, hoping to regain the form that caused so many Culés to go weak at the knees earlier in the campaign. Rafinha could feature in Xavi’s place, but I suspect the club captain will continue with Iniesta and possibly Mascherano not on the field.

Lionel Messi will lead the line as usual, Neymar will be in support and we seem intent on playing Suarez into fitness and match sharpness. Certainly, he hasn’t been the same player that set the Premier League ablaze, but it’s surely only a matter of time, right? If not, then Pedro looked promising against Ajax and could be worth a gamble.

ALMERIA

Almeria coach Francisco has made headlines this week by calling out Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho for what he perceives to be their selfishness in pursuit of success, so it’s a shame that we’re going to have to beat him and his side tomorrow. After all, he seems so reasonable...alas, we have to stop to evil Ronaldo, so why not let Lionel Messi overshadow him Señor Francisco?

Even if he doesn’t want to let that happen either, he might just be powerless to stop it; Messi is closing in on that record and maybe this will finally be the week that he makes history. On the teamsheet front, Almeria have named the same squad for the third match in succession, so don’t expect much in the way of surprises.

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona: WWWLLW

Almeria: LWDLLL

LAST MEETING

FC Barcelona 4-1 UD Almeria – 2nd March 2014 – La Liga

Carles Puyol scored his final goal in Blaugrana colours, helping wrap up a comfortable 4-1 home win against lowly Almeria, as goals from Lionel Messi, Alexis Sánchez and Xavi secured the three points.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Douglas, Bartra, Piqué, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Rakitić; Suarez, Messi, Neymar

Almeria (4-2-3-1): Ruben; Ximo, Trujillo, dos Santos, Dubarbier; Corona, Verza; Mendez, Soriano, Zongo; Hemed

MATCH PREDICTION

Super optimistic from me: a Manita