Barcelona look to end a four-game streak without wins as the Blaugrana visit Deportivo La Coruña at the Riazor Stadium on Wednesday in what has become a pivotal La Liga match.
Here's the problem: this shouldn't have become a pivotal league match. Just three weeks ago, everything was perfect: the Catalan giants had a nine-point lead, a 39-game unbeaten streak and looked simply untouchable. But five games (and four losses) later, the reigning champions don't look like the favorites to take the trophy again in this moment.
Yes, they have the easiest schedule of the three title candidates. Yes, they have the best attacking trio on the planet. Yes, they are still the best team on the planet. But no matter what argument you use, it is hard to have real confidence in what this Barça can do in the final five games of the league. They have no other choice but to win them all, and if they don't improve immediately, that won't happen.
The domestic double is an obligation more than an achievement. This was supposed to be a historical season for the first team in history to repeat a Treble. Now, the Blaugrana are in risk of making history for the wrong reason: a monumental failure. That just can't happen.
Injuries are a problem again, just like they were at the beginning of the season. Jérémy Mathieu, Sandro Ramírez and Thomas Vermaelen will not feature, and Arda Turan is highly doubtful because of illness. Gerard Piqué is suspended, making it five Blaugrana players who cannot play at Riazor. An important return is Rafinha Alcântara, who missed two games through injury but is healthy again and ready for selection.
With very few options left in his thin squad, Luis Enrique has no choice but to pick the Gala XI with one change: Marc Bartra will start for the first time in ages because of all the injuries on defense. Dani Alves should return, with Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba completing the backline.
In the middle, Sergio Busquets hopes to build on his good performance against Valencia and regain his usual form after a decline in the last few weeks. In front of him, Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta are the most likely to start once again. There were some talk of Arda Turan starting in place of the skipper, but if he's sick and unable to play, Iniesta will probably feature once again. Watch out for Rafinha and/or Sergi Roberto on the starting lineup too, as they can replace a number of players in different positions.
And then, the 'MSN' trio will close the lineup. Lionel Messi finally scored on the weekend, and he might do it again at Riazor, his favorite stadium to get goals outside of the Camp Nou. Luis Suárez is not at his best but still compensates by giving his all, which brings us to Neymar. Something is clearly wrong with the Brazilian. He is going through a horrible stretch of performances, looks too nervous on the pitch and there are already talks of a campaign from inside the club to force his exit.
We have no idea what's going on, but Ney has to play well again. He's too important.
DEPORTIVO LA CORUÑA
The Branquiazuis were the biggest surprise in the first few months of this La Liga season, and after avoiding relegation with a stoppage-time goal at Camp Nou in the last game of last season, Depor had an impressive start and inserted themselves into an European spot fight. But as the months went on, the team continued to decline, and are still in danger of going down to the Segunda with five games to go. Although a relegation is unlikely, a win against the league leaders is vital, and because of the Catalans' poor form, that might be doable playing at a crazy Riazor atmosphere.
Deportivo's most dangerous player, striker Lucas Pérez, is available and ready to bring problems to the Blaugrana's shaky defense. He might target Bartra, who will play for the first time in more than a month, and take advantage of the defender's rust to perhaps get a goal or two.
Barcelona 2-2 Deportivo La Coruña - 12 December 2015 - La Liga
The Catalan giants got off to a great start, with Messi and Rakitic getting a quick two-goal lead. But Depor came back, and thanks to goals from Lucas Pérez and Bergantiños, they escaped Camp Nou with a draw.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Deportivo (4-2-3-1): Manu; Laure, Sidnei, Navarro, Pablo; Mosquera, Borges; Juanfran, Fajr, Cani; Lucas
I mean, we have to win at some point, right? Right? Right? Right. 2-1 Barça.