FC Barcelona (4th, 35pts) vs UD Almería (20th, 5pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 18
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Frenkie de Jong, Marc-André ter Stegen, Pedri, Gavi, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso
Almería Outs & Doubts: Lucas Robertone (out), Gonzalo Melero, Marezi, Luis Suárez, Ibrahima Koné, Marc Pubill (doubt)
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 20, 2023, 7pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 6pm GMT (UK), 1pm ET, 10am PT (USA), 11.30pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Guillermo Cuadra Fernández
VAR: Eduardo Prieto Iglesias
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), Sports18 (India), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a disappointing draw away to Valencia at the weekend, Barcelona return home for their final La Liga game of 2023 as they welcome bottom of the table Almería to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Barça will be paid a lot of money to travel to the United States right after this game for a pre-Christmas friendly against Club Amería at the home of the Cowboys in Dallas before they go into the holiday break, but the clash against Almería is the last one that actually counts for something.
And in fact, given the current circumstances, it counts for everything. Barça are in desperate need of some good news after two horrible losses to Girona and Antwerp and an incredibly frustrating night at Mestalla where Barça should have won comfortably but missed big chances in every way imaginable and allowed the hosts to come back and steal a point on the night.
Xavi Hernández might be safe in his job until the end of the season unless things really take a turn for the worse, but if the coach wants to remain in charge beyond this campaign then he must guide Barça to a historic comeback in La Liga and a great run in Europe and the domestic cup competitions.
And if there’s ever a good opportunity to get an easy win to get back on track, it’s this one. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I try to be as respectful as possible to every opponent Barça play, because football has evolved to place where teams don’t need to be talented to be good.
That being said, Almería are bad. Like, BAD bad. They are off to one of the worst starts in La Liga history with only 5 points from 17 games and are yet to win a game in the league this term. They were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by a Fourth Division team — that will incidentally face Barça in the next round in a few weeks — and are dealing with a number of injuries to some of their best players.
Their defense has conceded nearly 40 goals already and they don’t know how to keep clean sheets or have a real defensive structure, and even a Barça side struggling mightily to score goals should have an easy time finding the net against this Almería team.
But creating the chances might be a problem as Barça will be missing Frenkie de Jong through suspension and Pedri through injury, so it’ll be up to Ilkay Gündogan and the two Joãos, Cancelo and Félix, to provide enough service to help Robert Lewandowski get back to his best. No other team will be as easy to attack as Almería, and Barça should have a field day.
Expecting a win in this one is more than reasonable, and a good performance should come along as well to help start building some confidence.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Fermín, Romeu, Gündogan; Ferran, Lewandowski, Félix
Almería (3-4-1-2): Maximiano; González, Montes, Chumi; Pozo, Lopy, Baba, Akieme; Arribas; Embarba, Baptistão
The midfield absences make me very nervous, but there’s just no way Barça will be the first team to lose to the worst team in the league this season, right? RIGHT? Yes, right: 2-0 to the good guys. I think?