Barcelona returns to Camp Nou for Spanish League duty on Saturday against relegation candidates Las Palmas, eager to come back to the winning ways facing one of the weakest sides in La Liga.
It was a tough midweek matchday for the Blaugrana; a trip to the Balaídos is never easy, but the 4-1 loss to Celta Vigo, in the way it happened, hurts. It hurts fans, players, coaching staff, everyone who's associated in any way to the club. Many things went wrong, and lots of lessons can be learned from a terrible night. Hopefully, they can already show what they have learned on Saturday. That's the coolest thing about football: people will forget about the villains if they become heroes just three days later.
The road ahead gets more difficult after Saturday, with the second Champions League group stage match against Bayer Leverkusen and a trip to the Pizjuán to face Sevilla in the next seven days. Luckily, the team got a break from serious injuries lately, and they also get a break from really tough opponents this weekend before two true tests ahead of another international break. Things look a little dark right now. Can the best team in the world start to shine again?
Two players are definitely out for Saturday, as Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha Alcântara are sure to miss the match at Camp Nou. Douglas Pereira is cleared to play again, while Claudio Bravo is pushing for a return to the field on tomorrow and remains the only doubt for the match against Las Palmas. The injuries are slowly disappearing, and the depth starts to come back.
After such a painful loss, it is easy to see changes to the lineup, and they might happen. Marc-André ter Stegen is set to start on goal for another game, and he just can stop anything. The German keeper was sensational last season, but lately has been just hemorrhaging goals. As weird as it sounds, most of them are not his fault, but he lacks leadership between the posts and doesn't offer as much security to everyone as he once did. Maybe it's a confidence problem, or just the defense as a whole, but Stegen has been worrisome, and he needs a clean sheet more than ever.
In front of him, defenders need to step up. Dani Alves simply got murdered against Celta, but should start again. It's a game that suits him since he won't face an attacking team and will be free to go forward; he won't be tested as much as he was on Wednesday, and he needs a strong performance on offense to make us forget his terrible defending for a while. Marc Bartra was very good in his last game against Levante last Sunday, and deserves to get minutes. Luis Enrique can't trust the pairing of Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano right now, which might give Bartra an opportunity to earn more playing time. After a strange neck injury that kept him out of midweek duty, Jordi Alba is certain to start and will be an upgrade over Jérémy Mathieu, who had a night to forget in Vigo.
At pivote, Sergio Busquets needs a rest after so many minutes played and the schedule, which opens the door for Mascherano to play the position in which he's performed the best so far this season. Ivan Rakitic was benched almost all 90 minutes against Celta, and he needs to improve to make Barça's midfield more dominant. Andrés Iniesta is the best midfielder on the team on this campaign, and he should start to keep his momentum going.
The attacking trio is likely to be the 'MSN' group, but I'd like to see Neymar Jr. get rested. He has shown some signs of exhaustion lately, and maybe 60-70 minutes on the bench tomorrow can help him recharge his batteries and come back strong for next week. Lionel Messi almost never sits, and Luis Suárez is fine to play three straight games, so he should be on the field as well.
Barça will likely face a parked bus, and needs a lot of creativity to get a good victory, which is more than important.
After 13 years, The Yellows are back to the Spanish League's first division. They had a rough start to the season, not winning their first four matches, but then hosted Sevilla at the Canary Islands and pulled off an improbable 2-0 win. Their most recent result proves they need attention, but it's a weak team after all.
Las Palmas will come to Camp Nou with one thing in mind: defending. There is a slight chance they watched film of Celta-Barça and thought "hey, should we attack? They look terrible on defense!", but the most likely thing is to park the bus in front of the box and try to stop every shot from the Blaugrana. Their striker, Sergio Araujo, is the one who deserves the most attention from the Catalans, but his scoring chances should be rare.
Las Palmas: LDDLW
FC Barcelona 1-1 UD Las Palmas - 30th March 2002 - La Liga
It was long time since these teams have faced each other in the Spanish League, and the Camp Nou hosted the last encounter between the two. A rebuilding Blaugrana team could only get a draw with a club that would be relegated in the same season. Current Barça coach Luis Enrique scored the opener for the hosts in the first half, while Suárez Orlando got the equalizer midway through the second period.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Munir
Las Palmas (5-3-2): Varas; Simon, Alcaraz, Bigas, Aythami, Castellano; Culio, Hernán, Mesa; Viera, Araujo
WE JUST NEED A WIN. It would be nice to get a fantastic victory with a lot of goals to build confidence, but the form is not that great. But I'll trust the stars, and go for an easy 3-0 win. CLEAN SHEET PLEASE!!!