Barcelona return to La Liga on Saturday, kicking off a series of three matches in the league that includes a vital game at Camp Nou against Atlético Madrid next Wednesday. That game will be giant to the title race, and Blaugrana fans are certainly looking forward to it.
There is a match to play this weekend, however, and it’s just as important. Barça travel to Madrid to face Leganés in an unusual lunch time kickoff in Spain, that might have an effect on how both teams perform. Your habits change, including your meals, your sleep, having to travel a day before (in Barça’s case), and all of that could have an impact on the type of game we see play out on Saturday.
Luis Enrique already said the kickoff shouldn’t be an excuse ahead of a game against another newly promoted side. If the Alavés match proved anything, it’s that anything can happen even though it is the best team in the world facing one of the weakest teams in the league.
After a monster victory and performance in the Champions League group stage opener against Celtic, Barça will look to carry the momentum into the Leganés clash, hoping to return to the winning ways in La Liga and stay close to leaders Real Madrid.
Date/Time: Saturday, September 17, 2016, 1pm local time (CET), 12pm BST (UK), 7am ET, 4am PT (US), 4:30pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadio Municipal Butarque, Madrid, Spain
Referee: Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea
For the first time all season, Lucho has no injuries or suspensions to worry about. Every single one of the 22 first team players is available, which makes this a selection headache for the Blaugrana manager. With the Atlético match coming up, we might see a rotation of the squad, and Enrique hinted at that in his pre-match press conference.
In goal, though, Marc-André ter Stegen will stay. He’s been fantastic in the few games he hasn’t missed through injury, but he looks healthy and his confidence is certainly sky-high following his penalty save in midweek. Ter Stegen is vital to keep possession and start buildup plays at the back, and he will edge Jasper Cillessen this Saturday.
The back-four will likely be changed as well, with Javier Mascherano probable to start in place of Samuel Umtiti alongside Gerard Piqué. The full-backs will probably be Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba again, unless Enrique decides to start Jérémy Mathieu at left-back, which is stupid but possible.
In midfield, the most difficult part of the pitch to predict. Sergio Busquets has been left out of the matchday squad, meaning all three spots are up for grabs, and plenty of talented players are fighting for a nod on Saturday. Captain Andrés Iniesta has been carefully managed since his return from injury, and he’s more likely to face Atlético than Leganés as a starter. Ivan Rakitic is a workhorse, but was substituted against Celtic and might start again on Saturday. André Gomes, Rafinha and Denis Suarez (in that order) will contend for a place, with the Portuguese probable to play from the beginning after his sensational game against Celtic.
The attacking trio is always easy to figure out, and Paco Alcácer will probably stay on the bench again with Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar starting on Saturday.
Sure, Leganés are a newly promoted side just like Alavés. But last week’s opponent made 18 signings in preseason and had a very strong squad for a team who just gained promotion. Leganés are not nearly as strong, and even though they have picked up four points from their first three games, they don’t have the attacking threat of Alavés and will just defend for 90 minutes with three parked buses.
Barcelona (official matches): WWWWLW
Leganés (official matches): WDL
Leganés (3-5-2): Serantes | Insúa, Mantovani, Rico | Días, Timor, Alberto, López, Marín | Gabriel, Guerrero
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen | Roberto, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba | Gomes, Rakitic, Rafinha | Messi, Suárez, Neymar
The Alavés game is a lesson, and the momentum from the Celtic game is just too good. Comfortable 3-0 win for Barça.