We are reaching the finish line. La Liga gets closer and closer to its end, and Barcelona fans can smell the trophy returning to their hands after a year of misery and disappointment. But to win the title, you've got to win big games. And Saturday brings us a big game: the Blaugrana will face Valencia at Camp Nou, and a win will prove that Barça is deserving of a title - no ifs, ands or buts.
A few factors make this match an incredibly difficult one: Valencia has lost only once in the Spanish League since the defeat against the Blaugrana several months ago. They're riding an impressive ten-game unbeaten streak, and their offense - the fifth best in Spain - continues to fire away at everybody. Los Che love to spoil parties, and they would love to do that again tomorrow.
The spectacular, dominant performance against Paris Saint-Germain last Wednesday is certainly a boost of confidence for Luis Enrique's side. They broke PSG's nine-year unbeaten streak at home in European competitions, and they'll return to a proud Camp Nou crowd that will certainly be rocking and willing its team to a victory.
Winning on Saturday will mean maintain a lead over Real Madrid in the standings. Not only that, it will prove that Barça can fight through the fatigue of this April marathon and still come out on top when it matters the most. Will they do it?
Luis Enrique has some squad decisions to make. Barça played two highly competitive, extremely demanding matches, and some (if not all) players are really tired. The squad is deep; would this be a good opportunity to do a little rotation? If it were me, the answer would be yes. But let's try to figure out what Lucho is going to do with his lineup.
Claudio Bravo is certainly a lock to start. The Chilean has played a near-perfect season thus far, and he helps anchor the best defense in La Liga. Bravo has kept a clean sheet in three of his last five appearances, and he's definitely entering Saturday's game with a little chip on his shoulder. Being a perfectionist, Bravo is not happy with his effort on the first Sevilla goal last week, in which he didn't make a good enough deflection on a shot by Ever Banega that ignited the hosts, that eventually got the draw. Barça's keeper does not want to do it again, which is good.
On defense, Gerard Piqué is once again expected to start. He continued his sensational 2015 form with another beautiful performance in Paris. Like Bravo, Piqué also wants to redeem himself from a mistake against Sevilla; his infamous bad pass started a deadly counter-attack that led to the equalizing score in the closing moments of last week's clash. Alongside him, Jérémy Mathieu, who had an unlucky deflection against PSG on Wednesday is probably going to get the nod. Dani Alves, recovered from a sprained ankle suffered on Monday's training session, will return. Jordi Alba, who also played a fantastic game at the Parc des Princes, will likely be the final piece in the back-line as he faces his former club.
At pivote, Sergio Busquets is almost certainly going to play since the opening whistle. Busi has enjoyed a great form himself, and it is hard to find anyone better at his job right now. In front of him, there is doubt. Andrés Iniesta has been ruled out because of the pelvic bruising he suffered against PSG, which opens the door for all sorts of center-midfield combinations. Should Rafinha Alcântara return? Should Ivan Rakitic get rested? Is Xavi going to start? What about Sergio Roberto? (stop laughing) We'll only get a clear picture one hour before the game, when Enrique releases the lineup.
However, there's no doubt about the forwards. MSN will once again start, unless a miracle happens. Responsible for 62 goals and 29 assists in La Liga so far, The Death Trio seems more comfortable and devastating than ever. With two crucial goals in the last two games, Neymar Jr. appears to have returned to his usual self. Lionel Messi is... well, you know. And Luis Suárez has become a destroyer of worlds in 2015, and he inspires fear on every defender that faces him - just ask David Luiz.
The league's second-best defense will get an important return, as Nicolás Otamendi gets his usual center-back starting gig back after serving a one-game suspension the last time out. However, they'll miss two largely important pieces of the offense in Enzo Pérez and Pablo Piatti, both likely to sit out due to injuries. But manager Nuno Espírito Santo will still be able to field a strong lineup, capable to give the league leaders a tough time.
Valencia 0-1 Barcelona - 30 November 2014 - La Liga
An uninspired Barça ran into a machine of attacking, intensity and toughness. One of the toughest games of the season so far, which ended in a heroic last-minute goal by Sergio Busquets to secure valuable three points for the Blaugrana.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Xavi; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Valencia (4-1-4-1): Alves; Barragán, Mustafi, Otamendi, Orban; Javi Fuego; Feghouli, Gomes, Parejo, Rodrigo; Alcácer
Barça is tired, Valencia is a b*tch and the last game between them at Camp Nou ended in a Valencia win. With all signs pointing to another loss, I'm going ahead and predicting an easy 3-0 Barça victory.