After a very important Champions League win against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night, Barcelona return to action with a match against Las Palmas in Matchday 7 of the La Liga season.
This is a big one for the Blaugrana, who could reach seven consecutive wins to start the league season and establish their position as the alpha dog of the title race before the real challenges begin. Las Palmas is perhaps the last “easy” opponent Barça will face for a while; after the international break the Blaugrana travel to Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, and also face Sevilla at home during a truly difficult month of October.
Those games will really test Ernesto Valverde’s team, so getting all 21 points in the most comfortable part of the schedule could be a giant thing for Barça, who could even afford to drop a few points in those tough matches and still have a good lead over Real Madrid.
Beating Las Palmas is not just about the result, though. The last two wins against Girona and Sporting have been largely unconvincing, and it doesn’t help that players like Gerard Piqué and Luis Suárez have started the season in horrible form. If the two are able to play well on Sunday and the whole team has another strong performance like we saw against Espanyol and Eibar recently, then we can have more confidence going into the tough stretch after international break.
Three points against a struggling Las Palmas are more than necessary: they’re crucial.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Sunday, October 1, 2017, 4:15pm CET, 3:15pm (UK & Nigeria), 10:15am ET, 7:15am PT (USA), 7:45pm IST (India)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia
Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Football (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA & Canada), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
The performance against Sporting was very poor thanks in part to a weird tactical choice by Valverde: he went with a 4-2-2-2 formation that lacked width and depth, and Lionel Messi was moved from the False Nine role where he’s played so well to a second striker alongside Suárez, perhaps in an attempt by Valverde to get the Uruguayan more involved and firing again.
Valverde’s plan didn’t work, and the whole team suffered from it. Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba weren’t allowed to run forward, which made sense in theory because Sporting had two very quick and dangerous wingers. But with no width in front of the full-backs thanks to four midfielders, the game was concentrated on the central areas and it became easy for Sporting to block the passing lanes to Messi and Iniesta, which left the entire creative responsibility to Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic, and that is a problem.
Even though playing Suárez on the left wing isn’t in the best interests of Luis Suárez, Valverde should always prioritize maximizing Messi’s potential, and the False Nine position is clearly the best for Leo. Suárez will benefit from it too, having the sole responsibility of making runs in behind the defense. He’s very good at it, and it might be the best way of getting him back to his best.
With all that said, the only real necessary change to the team that played in Lisbon is Gerard Deulofeu in place of Sergi Roberto. Deulofeu is the more direct threat and will provide width on the right wing, and his best games have come against weaker opposition. There’ll be a time when Deulofeu is ready to play well in big matches, but for now he’s at his most effective self facing the Las Palmas of this world.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Deulofeu, Messi, Suárez
Las Palmas (4-3-3)
Chichizola; Macedo, Lemos, Bigas, Navarro; Viera, Castellano, Aquilani; Tannane, Calleri, Tana
With the tough games coming after the international break, a win on Sunday would be really big, and we’ll get it while playing well again: 3-0 Barça.