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La Liga: Deportivo La Coruna vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

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A preview of Barcelona's final La Liga match of the first half of the season, as they travel to face Deportivo La Coruna at the Riazor

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

FC Barcelona will be hoping to finish the first half of the La Liga season with a win tomorrow as they travel north-west to Galicia, for their first trip to the Riazor where they will face newly-promoted Deportivo La Coruna. Under the guidance of head coach Victor Fernandez, Depor have been perilously sat just above the relegation zone for the majority of the season, although as expected, their home form has been the main positive in this difficult campaign.

However, while they may be far removed from their La Liga title victory at the turn of the millennium, make no mistake that this Deportivo outfit is an improvement on the last one that graced the division; back in 2012/13 they were rooted to the table for the majority of the year, meaning that their late attempt to claw back to safety was ultimately too little too late. In spite of that, Depor did give Tito Vilanova’s FC Barcelona an almighty test at the Riazor – remember that epic 5-4 victory in our record-breaking campaign? Yep, it was against Deportivo La Coruna.

On that night, Barça raced into a commanding three-goal lead within the opening 20 minutes of the match, only for Depor to fight back courtesy of goals from Pizzi and Alex. Lionel Messi restored the visitors’ two goal advantage before half-time but that proved to be short-lived as Pizzi reduced the deficit once again almost immediately after the break. Messi completed his hat-trick, but even then, it seemed as though the three points might have been at risk after Jordi Alba’s incredible own-goal – Barça held on, but it was a majestic match, arguably one of the best of the season.

A repeat of that level of entertainment would surely be welcome, even if Luis Enrique would probably prefer if his side didn’t have to muster another five goals to record the win. After all, despite scoring freely at the Camp Nou, Barcelona have only found the back of the net 12 times in nine away fixtures this season, or if you exclude the Manita win over Levante that ratio falls to an alarming seven goals in eight matches.

As such, a trip to the Riazor might not be as straight-forward as the respective league positions of these two sides suggests. Still, with a squad boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, surely we’re due a strong victory away from home at some stage, right?

TEAM NEWS

BARCELONA

Marking his return from injury with a superb free-kick on Thursday, Jeremy Mathieu has promptly found his way back onto the sidelines; he will miss the trip to A Coruna with an Achilles problem. However, while Mathieu is out, Neymar is back in the mix, shaking off the horrendous knock he sustained to his ankle in last weekend’s win over Atletico Madrid and Xavi might return as well, although the veteran Catalan midfielder is yet to receive medical clearance.

Aside from that, there’s nothing new to really report for the Blaugrana, squad-wise unless you consider the demotion of Munir El Haddadi to be some sort of surprise. It has been evident for a while that the talented forward has struggled without regular game-time in Luis Enrique’s frontline, and it’s for the best that he rejoins the B team in an effort to find his form once again.

Therefore, one might think that we won’t be in for many surprises tomorrow – but with a Copa del Rey quarter-final first-leg against Atletico Madrid to think about, Lucho will surely have one or two tricks up his sleeve.

In goal, Claudio Bravo will start in just about one of the only predictable decisions in the starting line-up, and he is likely to be guarded by a defense containing Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba. Likely, but anything can happen with Enrique, so perhaps we should be predicting a start for a Martin Montoya, or a Marc Bartra – a wild card, who might upset the status quo so to speak.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets should return at pivote; he’s started all but one of Barcelona’s 18 La Liga fixtures this season, so I wouldn’t expect to see Javier Mascherano take his place anyway. Ahead of Busquets though, will Ivan Rakitić be afforded a second consecutive La Liga start? The Croatian has dipped in and out of Luis Enrique’s line-up without explanation this season, who knows what tomorrow might hold for the Croatian? Personally, I think we’ll need his energy and enthusiasm, while Xavi patently won’t be ready for a start after his spell on the sideline.

Andrés Iniesta should round off the midfield, but I’m equally conscious that this would represent the same midfield that started against Atleti, and well, we all know how adverse to consistency Luis Enrique has been with his team selection. Both Sergi Roberto and Rafinha Alcântara played well against Elche in midweek, so maybe one of those (more likely the latter) will feature at some stage?

The attack also picks itself: Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, all of whom should be feeling refreshed after their midweek rest. We’ve waited so long for the triumvirate to "click" that it would surely represent a huge risk and monumental error of judgement for Lucho not to start them together a week after they tore apart the reigning La Liga champions. Still, never count out Pedro – he’s played in almost every La Liga match this season, and could rival Neymar for that starting berth, depending on the Brazilian’s fitness.

DEPORTIVO

Isaac Cuenca will probably be the most recognisable name amongst the Deportivo squad for most Culés; his emergence under Pep Guardiola may have been born slightly out of necessity and circumstance, but he impressed nonetheless and surely would have had a reasonable shot at a long-term career at the club if not for his troubles with injury. Now, Cuenca is looking to rebuild his promising career at one of Spain’s bigger clubs – and he’s being doing OK.

Cuenca is joint top-scorer at the Riazor with two goals to his name, a statistic that perhaps emphasises their struggles far better than any words can. Helder Postiga has not impressed, nor really has Toche; prompting the club to dip into the transfer market for support in the shape of attacking midfielder, Celso Borges and striker, Oriol Riera. Will either the Costa Rican World Cup star or the former Osasuna forward inspire Depor to relative success in 2015? We’ll just have to wait and see, but for tomorrow at least, Depor’s focus will surely be on containing the Blaugrana rather than going toe-to-toe with them.

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona: WWLWWW

Deportivo: LWLLWD

LAST MEETING

FC Barcelona 2-0 Deportivo La Coruna – 9th March 2013 – La Liga

Fun fact: from the team that started this match less than two years ago, only three players remain at the club: Adriano, Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano. Even with Victor Valdés suspended and the likes of Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta on the bench, Barça were too strong for Depor, as Alexis Sánchez scored a goal and supplied an assist to help secure the three points.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Pedro

Deportivo (4-2-3-1): Fabricio; Juanfran, Lopo, Sidnei, Luisinho; Medunjanin, Alex; Cuenca, Borges, Cavaleiro; Riera

MATCH PREDICTION

Another easy Barça win for me; I think we’ve been on a roll and can’t see anything disrupting that at present, suspect away form or not. 3-0 Barça!