UD Almería (18th, 22pts) vs FC Barcelona (1st, 59pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Saturday
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 23
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé, Ansu Fati (out)
Almería Outs & Doubts: Alejandro Pozo (out)
Date/Time: Sunday, February 26, 2023, 6.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 5.30pm GMT (UK), 12.30pm ET, 9.30am PT (USA), 11pm IST (India)
Venue: Power Horse Stadium, Almería, Spain
Referee: Miguel Ángel Ortiz Arias
VAR: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Not Available (Canada, UK), Sports18 (India), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a painful loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford to end their European journey this season, Barcelona have very little time to recover as they make another trip, this time to beautiful Andalusia for a Sunday evening clash against relegation candidates Almería at the Power Horse Stadium.
Barça come into this one after another hugely disappointing night in Europe that raised more questions about Xavi Hernández’s ability to lead his team to continental success, but his dominance over La Liga is undeniable. And thanks to a huge favor from Atlético Madrid who held Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw on Saturday’s derby at the Santiago Bernabéu, Barça can officially become title favorites on Sunday.
If the Blaugrana get the win against Almería they will open up a 10-point lead at the top of the table with 15 matches to go, the type of gap that becomes nearly insurmountable at this point of the season. Barça will face Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Thursday, and it would be a big confidence boost to be up double digits on Los Blancos before they face off twice in the next three weeks.
But it won’t be easy to overcome Almería, who despite their record and a three-game losing streak are very tough to beat at home, as Atlético and Real themselves can attest. Almería play a high-intensity defensive style with tons of physical play that brings the crowd into the game, and they have dangerous counter-attacking weapons and good set piece routines as well.
Another important factor is Barça’s fitness level considering they’ll have less than 72 hours between the end of the United match and the kickoff in this one and had to travel twice in that period. Xavi will have no choice but to make at least a couple of changes to the lineup, resting some key players and giving reserves a run from the start.
Gavi’s return to the lineup is excellent news, but Ansu Fati is out with a knee injury in addition to Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé’s absences. There is basically no depth up front and all three of Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres will have to start. If they can’t be at their best, there won’t be anyone on the bench to change things up.
Barça will have to fight through the tired legs and try to play their best against a dangerous team, but knowing that Madrid dropped two points will serve as big motivation to stay perfect in La Liga in 2023 and take a big step towards the title they’ve prioritized since the season started.
Xavi and players promised they would learn the lessons from the United defeat and bounce back quickly. It’s time to show they’re telling the truth.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Christensen, Alba; Kessie, Busquets, Gavi; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Ferran
Almería (4-2-3-1): Martínez; Mendes, Ely, Babic, Akieme; De La Hoz, Samu; Baptistão, Robertone, Embarba; Suárez
Almería know how to make it tough at home for big teams, but Barça will be motivated to go 10 points clear and get back to winning ways after Thursday: 3-0 to the good guys.