FC Barcelona will be looking for revenge tomorrow afternoon when they travel to the Basque Country to take on the side that embarrassed them at the Camp Nou earlier this season, Deportivo Alaves, at the Estadio Mendizorrotza. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side shocked the world back in September when they claimed a famous 2-1 victory in Catalunya, and with fate conspiring to pit the two sides against one another in the 2017 Copa del Rey final, this will serve as the second in an interesting trilogy of matches between the teams this campaign.
Luis Enrique will of course be hoping his team can avenge that defeat in style tomorrow, not least because a win will see the Blaugrana temporarily move ahead of Real Madrid in the La Liga standings, but also to maintain momentum ahead of the return of the UEFA Champions League. A midweek trip to Paris to take on Paris-Saint Germain awaits Barcelona, and it would be ideal if Enrique’s side could travel to France off the back of a victory.
Earlier this week, FC Barcelona fought their way through a difficult 90 minutes against Atletico Madrid to book their place in the Copa del Rey final; an achievement that is sure to hand the Blaugrana a psychological boost in the title race. It proved that this side has the grit, the determination and the skill to ward off even the strongest of opposition – and a similarly steely performance in the Basque Country tomorrow would be a welcome way to see off the week.
This type of fixture might not be glamorous, but at the end of the season it counts all the same. What’s important isn’t necessarily the style of the performance – but the substance. Can Barcelona grind out a victory and stay in contention at the top of the table, or will Alaves spring another surprise to effectively end the title race in February?
The headline news as we prepare for this game concerns Gerard Pique and Arda Turan, as both players have missed training today and have subsequently been left out of the squad for the match. It is unlikely that either player is a serious doubt for the match against PSG, but Luis Enrique is right to play it cautious, especially with so many capable players ready to fill in.
Lucas Digne returns to the fold, while Carles Alena has also been handed a call-up to bolster the numbers as Javier Mascherano also misses out through injury. With PSG to come in midweek, expect some rotations from Luis Enrique, even if the primary focus will be on securing the three points tomorrow.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal, although outside of that and the front three, everything else seems to be up for grabs. The central defensive pairing of Jeremy Mathieu and Samuel Umtiti however will be set in stone – primarily because the French connection is our only choice. At full-back, we have nothing but choice with Aleix Vidal, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Lucas Digne all available and ready to start; so it’s anybody’s guess as to who gets the nod from Enrique tomorrow.
In midfield, I expect that Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta will both see game-time. With Mascherano injured, my money is on Busquets to start at pivote, with Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez starting in the two interior roles ahead of him. Gomes would then transition to pivote in the second-half, at which stage Iniesta could make an appearance off the bench, with Alena an outside shot to feature in a cameo, depending on how well the match goes for the Blaugrana.
In attack, the MSN trident will probably start – with Paco Alcacer ready to provide some respite off the bench after his goal against Athletic Bilbao last weekend.
For anyone who thought this was going to be an easy match, consider that Alaves have lost just once in their last 17 fixtures. Their form this season under Mauricio Pellegrino this season has surprised many, as they boast one of the best defensive records in the league, despite currently sitting in the bottom half of the table. While they will be missing key midfielder, Edgar Mendez, who is absent with a hamstring injury, they don’t have many injuries to contend with and as such, will be optimistic of their chances of pulling off another upset.
FC Barcelona 1-2 Deportivo Alaves – 10th September 2016 – La Liga
A Barcelona side without Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez slumped to a shock defeat, as Ibai Gomez and Deyverson got the goals that would send shockwaves throughout La Liga.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Vidal, Umtiti, Mathieu, Alba; Busquets, Gomes, Denis; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Alaves (5-4-1): Pacheco; Kiko, Alexis, Laguardia, Garcia, Hernandez; Katai, Llorente, Camarasa, Ibai; Deyverson
This is not going to be easy; I think it’s going to be a tight one, decided by the brilliance of a fresh Neymar. 2-0 to the visitors.