FC Barcelona return to La Liga action tomorrow, as they hope to return to winning ways following a shock defeat at Estadio Balaidos in their last fixture. The 3-4 loss to Celta Vigo left the Blaugrana two points adrift of league leaders, Atletico Madrid, and perhaps more worryingly it also saw us slip to fourth place in the standings – and that could easily be fifth by the time we kick-off at the Camp Nou tomorrow.
With Pep Guardiola and Manchester City set to visit in midweek, Luis Enrique will be anxious to see his side reclaim some momentum; which in itself is going to be a monumental task given the latest international break. While we will see some players make their return from injury, we will be without others – as Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Jasper Cillessen all picked up injuries while representing their countries.
In that sense, this represents perhaps one of the toughest decisions of Luis Enrique’s season so far; with a tough fixture ahead in midweek, injuries to contend with and a group of players likely to be fatigued by their travels, just how much should he rotate the squad? Even at this early stage of the season, Barcelona cannot afford another slip-up – dropping points for a fourth time in their first eight matches would be unheard of, and as such, tomorrow is something of a "must-win" affair.
All this brings us nicely onto our opposition tomorrow; Deportivo La Coruna will be the visitors, and while our historical record at home to Depor is strong, the most recent fixtures in Catalunya between the two sides have been far from plain-sailing. Last season, Depor arrived at the Camp Nou in the middle of December and despite falling two goals behind on the evening, they struck back to secure a point.
Much the same can be said of the corresponding fixture from 2014/15; Lionel Messi scored twice to put Barça in the driving seat, only for Depor to escape with a point. Deportivo may be huge underdogs tomorrow, but they know they have what it takes to secure a result.
Will this be the season that the Blaugrana finally finish the job and earn a much-needed three points, or will Depor pile the pressure on Luis Enrique by claiming a third successive result at the Camp Nou?
Undoubtedly the biggest headline headed into this match has to be the return to fitness of Lionel Messi. The Argentine superstar might just be the best player of all-time, and as such it’s only normal that we would celebrate his return to action. As Luis Enrique so succinctly put it, when Messi is injured, football loses – we all lose. As it turned out, Barcelona would actually lose and whether Messi would have prevented that remains to be seen – but we certainly stand a better chance with him in the team.
Whether he starts tomorrow or not also remains to be seen; we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we may lose him again, which suggests that Enrique may opt to leave the little magician on the bench and slowly introduce him back into the fold.
In terms of who will start tomorrow, we can be sure that Marc-Andre ter Stegen will feature between the sticks; with Jasper Cillessen out, he’s pretty much our only option anyway. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the Camp Nou reacts to ter Stegen. We know that it can be a fickle place and that Culés are notorious for turning on a player where they feel they have good reason – and ter Stegen did make a major mistake in the defeat to Celta. There’s nothing to suggest a negative reaction – but it’s one to keep an ear out for if ter Stegen looks shaky early on.
In defense, the injuries to Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba throw a spanner into the works; Lucas Digne will start at left-back and in truth, this could be a good thing given the Frenchman’s form early in the season, but at right-back? Aleix Vidal has looked shaky at best in his few appearances this season; short on confidence for sure, and perhaps short on the prerequisite ability needed to feature for this club, depending on who you listen to. I can’t see any other option though, so good luck Aleix, go out there tomorrow and prove the doubters wrong.
He made headlines for a number of reasons in the international break; it’ll be nice to see Gerard Pique playing for a crowd that truly appreciates him – especially as announcement of his future retirement is sure to lead to stronger reactions on our travels for the remainder of the season. Samuel Umtiti’s return to fitness could see the former Lyon defender make his comeback ahead of Javier Mascherano, who returned from South America late this week, although my money would be on Jeremy Mathieu getting the nod.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets’ recent tough spell has some questioning his spot in the starting XI; a rest might do him good ahead of the match with Manchester City – and maybe if Enrique is feeling bold, he might agree? Ivan Rakitic could fill in at pivote in a pinch, and that would enable Denis Suarez to get a start as a reward for his good form with the Spanish Under 21s over the past week. Instead, I think it’s more likely that we see Andre Gomes, Rafinha and Andres Iniesta; or perhaps even more likely, Busquets, Iniesta and Gomes.
In attack, we could see the fabled MSN trident reunited; and perhaps we will at some stage of the evening – but in the first instance I presume that either Rafinha or Arda Turan will be taking Messi’s spot on the right. If I were Enrique, I would be tempted to start with Messi, Neymar and Paco Alcacer – but I doubt Lucho feels the same way.
After five matches without a win, Deportivo entered the international break on a high, claiming their first win since the opening day of the season with a 2-1 triumph over Sporting Gijon at the Riazor. However, the win failed to mask the issues that Deportivo have been facing; since the sale of Lucas Perez to Arsenal, Deportivo have struggled for goals – their top-scorer, Celso Borges, only has two to his name, and the entire club has only scored four goals of their own (excluding an own goal).
In Ryan Babel, Depor hope they have signed a winger capable of contributing his fair share; and the Dutchman did score the winner against Gijon; but travelling to the Camp Nou? Depor simply don’t have the firepower to keep up.
Deportivo La Coruna 0-8 FC Barcelona – 20th April 2016 – La Liga
The visitors gave Deportivo the mauling of the season, as Luis Suarez put on the best display of his career, scoring four goals and assisting another three in a memorable rout that moved the Blaugrana one win closer to the title.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Vidal, Pique, Mathieu, Digne; Busquets, Gomes, Iniesta; Arda, Suarez, Neymar
Deportivo (4-2-3-1): Lux; Laure, Sidnei, Albentosa, Navarro; Mosquera, Borges; Gama, Fajr, Babel; Andone
It’s always a tough one after the international break, but I think this is one comeback that Depor won’t be able to pull off. 3-0 Barça.