CAMPEONES, CAMPEONES, OLE, OLE, OLE... Barcelona has been celebrating the La Liga title for a week, and deservedly so. It was a tough season, with ups and downs, but the final 20 matches of the league campaign were magical, and the Blaugrana head into their final Jornada at home to lift the trophy.
The match against Deportivo La Coruña doesn’t matter that much, but because of the circumstances it would be nice to get a victory. It is the title-celebrating game, at home, with a full Camp Nou ready to welcome and cheer the team throughout the clash just waiting for the final whistle, and the trophy party.
Plus, it is a special game for one extra reason. Xavi Hernández announced he is leaving Barça at the end of the season, and this will be his last career La Liga game. The Blaugrana will wear a special uniform, the captain will start, and the club will hold a ceremony to honor the historical midfielder.
Will Xavi end his league career in a perfect way, or will Depor spoil the party?
Coach Luis Enrique has already indicated that a deep rotation of the squad will happen. There are two finals ahead in the next two weeks, and there’s simply no reason to risk injuries to anybody. Munir El-Haddadi is expected to be part of the squad to make his unofficial promotion game. Other non-heavy-minute squad members will also get a chance to appear in the final match of the season alongside Xavi, according to Lucho.
But between the posts, there will be no rotations. Claudio Bravo is going to start, which will make him the only Barcelona player to start in every single La Liga game this season, and the Zamora Trophy winner is going to cap off a spectacular first campaign with the Blaugrana. He won the league gig over Marc-André ter Stegen, and a whole year of great performance after great performance shows it was a good decision.
The defense is likely to be the most affected part of the starting XI in terms of rotations. Don’t expect any of the Gala XI defenders to play from the initial whistle. At right-back, Martín Montoya, who proved himself as a valuable backup after a tough beginning of the season, in which he even wanted to leave the club due to a lack of chances, will probably start. At the center of the defense, Marc Bartra, who had another underrated season as Gerard Piqué’s backup, will likely play alongside Jérémy Mathieu, that hasn’t played in a while. At left-back, Adriano Correia will end another solid backup season with a deserved start.
The big news regarding the defense: Thomas Vermaelen will make his official Barcelona debut, as revealed by Enrique on Friday’s press conference. But because of the lack of match form, the Belgian defender will probably enter in the second half, and play just a few minutes. He’s going to be used a lot next season, but we don’t know how ready he is to play right now, and a 25- to 30-minute appearance is most likely. Which is already great, since Vermaelen was never expected to play this season.
At midfield, alongside Xavi, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha Alcântara will likely form the three-man group to control possession and run the machine. All three have had some very important roles this season, and Roberto discovered a new position as the pivote. Don’t be surprised if Javier Mascherano starts over Sergi, but as part of the Gala XI, The Sheriff might also get a day off.
On the front-line, Luis Suárez will once again be rested. He is recovered from the hamstring injury, but there’s no reason to risk anything with this game being worth nothing. Pedro Rodríguez deserves a second straight start after a tremendous performance in the title-clincher against Atlético Madrid. Munir is also expected to be named as a starter in place of Neymar Jr., who also deserves a rest after playing a lot over the last month. Lionel Messi, however, ain’t getting no rest. ‘Iron Man’ Leo will play, and he still has a shot to win the Pichichi. He’ll need some luck and a hat-trick, but that’s the only thing to play for since the league is already in the bag. Worth trying.
DEPORTIVO LA CORUÑA
Depor will enter the Camp Nou in need of a victory. They will avoid relegation with a win on Saturday, but even a draw might cut it. That means they will compete, and against a not so strong Blaugrana lineup, especially on defense, Depor might have a shot to spoil the title party.
Deportivo La Coruña 0-4 FC Barcelona – 18th January 2015 – La Liga
A hat-trick by Lionel Messi, along with an own goal by Sidnei, gave the Blaugrana a fantastic win that was part of the recovery process after the loss at Anoeta just two weeks earlier.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Montoya, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano; Mascherano, Xavi, Rafinha; Munir, Messi, Pedro
Depor (4-4-1-1): Fabricio; Laure, Lopo, Sidnei, Canella; Juanfran, Borges, Bergantiños, Cavaleiro; Perez; Riera
It’s a party, everyone will be in a festive mood, and I don’t expect an all-time unforgettable performance. But the team will win this for Xavi, so I’m going for a nice 3-0 victory.