FC Barcelona return to La Liga action tomorrow hoping to halt a two match losing streak as they welcome Real Sociedad to the Camp Nou. The San Sebastian natives held the Blaugrana to a draw when the two sides met earlier this season and a repeat of that result would surely see Barcelona’s title hopes end a week ahead of El Clasico; however, while Barça’s form away from home makes for difficult reading, their form at the Camp Nou is immense and despite their recent troubles, they are still expected to pick up all three points tomorrow evening.
The task at hand is of course made more difficult knowing that Juventus will also be coming to the Camp Nou in the next week, and that a huge result is needed against the Serie A champions if Barcelona are to progress to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. At this present moment, Barcelona are rank outsiders for both La Liga and the Champions League, and Luis Enrique has a difficult decision to make regarding his priorities for the weeks ahead.
Not only that, but Barcelona’s injury crisis has claimed another important casualty, as Javier Mascherano looks set to miss tomorrow’s match with a calf injury sustained against Juventus in midweek. Factor in Neymar’s suspension and an already thin squad now looks virtually transparent under the spotlight of media scrutiny.
On the other side of the equation there is Eusebio Sacristan; a potential candidate for the vacant Barcelona managerial position this coming summer. If the former member of the fabled Dream Team could mastermind another upset tomorrow, his name could well move to the top of the list given how recent rumours seem to indicate that the board are a long way away from settling on their preferred candidate.
Or, to summarise tomorrow’s match in a single sentence: La Liga is on the line, Barcelona’s pride might well be as well and all the while, there could be an open audition for next season as well. Whoever thought that the match sandwiched in-between the Champions League quarter-final matches could have so much riding on it?
Before we get to the team news, I think it would be worthwhile to address the elephant in the room. Barcelona’s midweek defeat against Juventus was at times difficult to watch and ultimately ended rather embarrassingly for the Blaugrana from a scoreline perspective, but I personally wasn’t as disappointed watching that match as I had been with the performances against Paris Saint-Germain, or even against Malaga last weekend.
Defensively we were suspect but speaking frankly, this has been an issue for the club since its inception and in my eyes at least, there is little to gain from discussing that issue for too long. Our finishing wasn’t great either, but at least we created a few chances – which is no small feat against that Juventus defense. The hosts were simply more clinical and overall, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Culés that maybe, just maybe, there are other teams playing this sport that might just be better than ours.
That may be hard to accept after a period of sustained dominance, but it’s entirely normal and nothing to be ashamed of either. We can still beat these teams too, much like us, they are not invincible but we might just need the stars to align for us in order to do so. Tuesday clearly wasn’t that night; with Busquets suspended and Rafinha injured, Barcelona were not at their best and away from home, they were made to pay for their mistakes.
Wednesday on the other hand, Juventus come to our yard and who knows, maybe fate will be on our side then.
In terms of team news ahead of the match tomorrow; as referenced above, Javier Mascherano is expected to miss out with a calf injury. If so, he will join Aleix Vidal, Rafinha Alcantara, Neymar and Arda Turan in watching from the stands. The Turkish midfielder has returned to training this week, but he is yet to receive the medical green light to make a competitive return.
With Mascherano injured, Enrique will likely abandon the 3-4-3 in favour of the usual 4-3-3, with Jordi Alba therefore likely to return to the starting line-up. Andres Iniesta should be expected to drop to the bench, with Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes fighting it out for the final midfield berth. Paco Alcacer should then start in place of the suspended Neymar, although it will be interesting to see what role he takes up in the front three.
Eusbeio will be without the services of striker Juanmi, who misses out through suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon that victory was Sociedad’s first in five matches and they had their impressive start to thank for securing the three points. Goals from Willian Jose and the aforementioned Juanmi in the first half an hour effectively put the game to bed early, and with Barcelona struggling for confidence, Eusebio should be challenging his side to repeat tomorrow.
Real Sociedad: WLLDLW
FC Barcelona 5-2 Real Sociedad – 26th January 2017 – Copa del Rey
After securing a rare win away at the Anoeta in the first-leg, Barcelona stormed through to the semi-finals with this second-leg demolition courtesy of goals from Denis Suarez (2), Messi, Suarez and Turan.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Gomes; Messi, Suarez, Alcacer
Real Sociedad (4-2-3-1): Rulli; Zaldua, Inigo, Navas, Yuri; Illarramendi, Zurutuza; Vela, Prieto, Oyarzabal; Willian
Crisis? What crisis? 3-1 to the hosts.