After engineering the greatest comeback in the history of modern football in midweek, FC Barcelona return to La Liga action tomorrow when they travel to the north-west to take on Deportivo La Coruña at the Riazor. The Blaugrana are riding on cloud nine after their historic win on Wednesday against Paris Saint-Germain, but as sensational as that win might have been, attentions must turn back to the domestic scene, where Barcelona will need a win to guarantee they maintain their lead at the top of the table.
Luis Enrique emphasized that point in his pre-match press conference today; the PSG win will have a place in our hearts for years and decades to come, but we must show the same dedication, the same effort against Deportivo. Suddenly, a historic treble is back on the table and while it will be a tremendous ask, as long as there is a chance, Wednesday has proven that we cannot count this squad out.
A few weeks ago, the Blaugrana were staring down the barrel at a season of disappointment. La Liga seemed to be drifting out of reach, the UEFA Champions League was nothing but a pipedream and of course the Copa del Rey final was on the horizon, but in comparison it was a consolation prize. Now? Well, it’s been Groundhog Day for Luis Enrique as the parallels to 2015 continue to surface.
Had Luis Enrique lost the dressing room? Had he f*ck – excuse the language but for me one of the most satisfying aspects of Wednesday was the fact that it proved the majority of people wrong. Not necessarily the fact that Barcelona progressed against all the odds; rather it was because a number of key players and personnel got the opportunity to give the middle finger to their critics.
Neymar reiterated why he is considered the heir to Lionel Messi’s throne, Sergi Roberto got the winner after so many fans had been so fickle as to turn on him despite his impressive transition to full-back and of course Luis Enrique, the coach that so many had written off, the coach that so many had labelled a fraud – well, we’ve all seen what the headlines have said about these three over the past few days.
Now, the sky is the limit once again and Barcelona can register their sixth successive win in all competitions, as well as extend their La Liga unbeaten streak to 20 matches with a victory at Depor tomorrow evening.
The big news coming out of Catalunya today is that Rafinha and Neymar both missed training through illness and injury respectively; the Brazilian pair are both absent from Luis Enrique’s squad for tomorrow’s match and that is sure to be a big blow for the Blaugrana. Neymar is of course a sensational player and any team would be weaker without him, while Rafinha has been influential in Barcelona’s switch to a 3-3-1-3.
The question therefore is whether Enrique will persevere with that system without two key players, or whether he will revert to a 4-3-3 and if that will be enough to defeat Deportivo.
I suspect that Enrique will revert to a 4-3-3, if only because of the personnel at his disposal. Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba will start on either flank, with Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti together in the centre of defense. Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta are likely to start in midfield, with Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez both likely to push for staring berths, then Arda Turan will replace Neymar in attack.
After sacking Gaizka Garitano, Deportivo have been unbeaten in three matches, including a 1-1 home draw with Atletico Madrid. The new man in charge? Pepe Mel is back in La Liga after a year-long absence and he’s hoping to mastermind Depor’s climb up the table. The bad news is that his record against Barcelona hasn’t been particularly positive over the years; while he has faced the Blaugrana more often than almost any other club, he has lost 80% of those matches and his teams have conceded over three goals per game on average across each of the 10 fixtures.
Florin Andone and Pedro Mosquera are absent through suspension, while Guilherme and Sidnei are both missing with injuries, leaving Depor somewhat light of options at the back and devoid of any real scoring threat.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Deportivo La Coruna – 15th October 2016 – La Liga
Enrique’s experiment with a 3-4-3 paid dividends on this October afternoon, as Rafinha bagged a brace before goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi finished off the hapless visitors.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Arda
Deportivo (4-2-3-1): Lux; Juanfran, Arribas, Albentosa, Luisinho; Bergantinos, Borges; Fajr, Colak, Kakuta; Joselu
It won’t be another 5 goal win, but it’ll be comfortable enough. 3-0 to the visitors.