Following a very impressive win against Eibar at home in midweek, Barcelona return to La Liga action this Saturday with the second Catalan Derby of the season, away to newly promoted Girona FC at the Montilivi stadium. Girona are playing in the Spanish top flight for the first time, but it seems like they’ve been part of the league for a while.
Thanks to a partnership with Manchester City (the Catalans are now owned by the City Football Group and by Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere), Girona were able to put together a very strong squad for their debut season in La Liga, and the Blanquivermell seem to have a much better group of players than the recent promoted clubs. City loanees Pablo Maffeo, Aleix García, Douglas Luiz and Marlos Moreno could be crucial in helping Girona stay in the league this season, and they will not be an easy proposition for any team in La Liga.
Girona have already faced Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao in their first five matches, and while they’ve only picked up a point from those three games they have made things very tough. Atlético had to come from behind to get a 2-2 draw, Sevilla could only score a late winner and saw Girona hit the crossbar from a penalty in the last play of the game, and Bilbao struggled to break down the Girona defense last week.
They play a 3-4-3 system and are very good at attacking through the wings and proud themselves in very quick transitions to find their best player, Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani, in good scoring positions.
Thanks to Barça’s high line when the Blaugrana are in possession, Stuani and the Girona wide players will have quite a few counter-attacking chances. They could get a goal on the counter early in the game, and things could get very difficult for the league leaders.
If Barça are able to win a sixth game in a row, they’ll stay perfect in the league and continue to set the pace in the title race. But it definitely won’t be easy. This is a game Barça fans simply cannot take for granted. Girona is a good team.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Saturday, September 23, 2017, 8:45pm local time, 7:45pm (UK & Nigeria), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 12:15am IST (India, Sunday)
Venue: Estadi Municipal de Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia
Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Main Event (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)
After a few rotations in the win against Eibar, Valverde is likely to make a few more changes in this game as well. Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suárez were rested in midweek, though Rakitic did come on in place of Sergio Busquets for the final 20 minutes. Expect Umtiti, Alba and Suárez all to start, but the rest of the team should be pretty strong.
Marc-André ter Stegen will be in goal, with Umtiti and Alba in the left side of the defense. With Nélson Semedo rested and Gerard Piqué tired and in poor form, we should probably see Sergi Roberto and Javier Mascherano on the right side of the back four.
In midfield, we’ll likely see the starting trio of Busquets, Rakitic and the captain Andrés Iniesta, who has started almost every game but has constantly had his minutes carefully managed by Valverde. Luis Enrique would leave Iniesta out of games all the time, but the new coach has a different approach: start Iniesta, guarantee the win and take him out with 20-30 minutes to go. Seems like Valverde’s strategy is working so far.
Up front, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez will reunite after the Uruguayan was left out against Eibar, and with Gerard Deulofeu rested this weekend we should see Aleix Vidal play on the right wing, with Messi as the False Nine and Suárez coming from left to center to open up the left flank for Jordi Alba.
That’s a pretty strong team even with a few changes at the back and up front, and it should be good enough to beat Girona and still keep the players feet for the trip to Lisbon.
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Vidal, Messi, Suárez
Iraizoz; Bernardo, Alcalá, Juanpe; Maffeo, Granell, Pons, Benítez; Portu, García; Stuani
Girona have made every game against the big teams tough so far, and it won’t be any different for Barça. But we’ll get the win: 3-1 to the visitors.