FC Barcelona will be looking to consolidate their position as league leaders tomorrow evening when they welcome Celta Vigo to the Camp Nou. Real Madrid's surprise midweek slip up at home to Las Palmas saw Los Blancos falter in their bid to maintain their lead at the top of the table, and while they could reclaim that lead with a win in their game in hand, the draw ensured a dramatic shift in the title race. Now, the Blaugrana hold their fate in their own hands; if they win all of their remaining matches, they will be crowned La Liga champions for the third season in succession.
Of course, that will be a tall order for Luis Enrique’s side; they still need to travel to the Santiago Bernabeu for the final El Clasico of the season, while they will host Sevilla at the beginning of next month – both matches are surely destined to have a major impact in this title race. However, just knowing that we can decide our own destiny is a welcome change to the negativity we have faced over the past couple of months.
Looking back a year, this very fixture marked perhaps the high point of the campaign for Luis Enrique and his team. The first-half had been difficult, but the second was simply astonishing as the Blaugrana produced some of the best, most entertaining football of the past decade.
I recall watching at home with my family, none of whom are Barça supporters and the overwhelming feeling that night was one of sheer happiness. The aesthetic pleasure of watching something so pure, so exciting… the party atmosphere radiated through the screen and for one night, everyone was a convert to the Barça philosophy. It was a good time to be a Culé and I’d love if everyone could feel that same feeling tomorrow.
In midweek, it is likely that Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League challenge will come to an abrupt end. However, this weekend could be the start of a thrilling march to the La Liga title. Luis Enrique might be leaving, and we might not win the treble, but there’s still a lot of football left to be played this year and plenty of opportunity for the Blaugrana to put a smile on our faces and trophies in the cabinet.
All we need to do, is believe.
Usually, this would be the section of the preview in which I suggest that Luis Enrique is likely to rotate his squad ahead of the UEFA Champions League. This time however, that’s not going to be the case. With Paris Saint-Germain handing out a beating of epic proportions in the first leg, it’s clear that the Blaugrana are all but out of the competition. Or at least, it isn’t worth jeopardising our new-found La Liga lead for what is at best, a 1% chance of progression.
And with that in mind, I suspect that Luis Enrique is going to name a strong line-up for tomorrow’s match, perhaps rotating a few players but less with PSG in mind, and more with an eye on the coming weeks and who, tactically, could make a difference against Celta.
In defense, I expect to see Gerard Pique return and partner Samuel Umtiti in the heart of the defense, perhaps with Javier Mascherano providing Enrique with an opportunity to experiment with a 3-4-3. More likely, Lucas Digne and Sergi Roberto start on either flank in a conventional backline against the threat of one of the better offensive sides in La Liga.
In midfield, I suspect that Andre Gomes will get a recall into the starting line-up and he will partner Andres Iniesta while Sergio Busquets performs his usual role anchoring the midfield. In attack, Paco Alcacer could be pushing for a start after he notched another goal off the bench in midweek, but it’s more likely that the MSN trident continue up top as they seek to continue their purple patch in front of goal.
Former Barcelona starlet, Andreu Fontas will miss out through suspension while Eduardo Berizzo will also be without the services of Ruben Blanco and Pablo Hernandez who are absent with injuries. In spite of those misses, Berizzo still has a strong squad at his disposal; perhaps the only issue is that the offense relies heavily on the goalscoring of Iago Aspas.
Celta Vigo 4-3 FC Barcelona – 2nd October 2016 – La Liga
The absence of Lionel Messi was too much for the Blaugrana to overcome, as the curse of the Balaidos struck again. Gerard Pique’s brace nearly gave the visitors a point, but overall Celta simply had too much firepower for Luis Enrique’s side to handle.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Digne; Busquets, Gomes, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Celta (4-2-3-1): Alvarez; Mallo, Cabral, Gomez, Roncaglia; Radoja, Diaz; Sisto, Wass, Theo; Aspas
We might struggle at the Balaidos, but at the Camp Nou, we should beat Celta relatively comfortably. 3-1 to the hosts.