Elche CF (20th, 13pts) vs FC Barcelona (1st, 68pts)
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 27
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Frenkie De Jong, Andreas Christensen, Ousmane Dembélé, Raphinha (out), Ronald Araujo (doubt)
Elche Outs & Doubts: Álex Collado, Enzo Roco, John Nwankwo, Lisandro Magallán, Randy Nteka, Pape Cheikh, Lucas Boyé (out)
Date/Time: Saturday, April 1, 2023, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Sunday)
Venue: Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero, Elche, Alicante, Spain
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande
VAR: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoechea
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Not Available (Canada), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a crucial victory in El Clásico and two weeks off for the final international break of the European season, Barcelona return to action to begin the stretch run of this La Liga campaign when they travel to the beautiful province of Alicante to meet bottom of the table Elche on Saturday Night Fútbol.
Barça come into this one with a 12-point lead at the top of the table which they earned with a memorable comeback victory in the Clásico a fortnight ago, and they are now the overwhelming favorites to claim their first league title since 2019 with 12 games to go. But there’s still a big job to be done, and after working so hard for seven months to build such a comfortable lead they cannot afford any slip-ups and must take every game seriously until the title is officially theirs.
They will be 15 points ahead of Real Madrid for at least a few hours with a win on Saturday, and on paper they should have no issues going up against one of the worst La Liga sides in recent memory. Elche have had a truly terrible season and have no realistic shot at escaping relegation, and it’s only a matter of time before they go down in embarrassing fashion.
They have the league’s worst attack and worst defense by a mile, and the team lacks any cohesion or tactical nuance and is mostly going through the motions at this point. They have lost only one of their last three, however, and have given some of the league’s best teams a tough time at home.
And perhaps this is the best time to face Barça: the Catalans have a history of not playing well in the first game after the international break, and come into this one missing five starters through injury and have their eyes on the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Real Madrid next Wednesday.
Xavi Hernández knows it’ll be a challenge to fully focus on this one with all the circumstances surrounding it, but Barça simply cannot drop points on Saturday and must take the game seriously to not get into a hard-fought, anxious battle that comes down to the very end.
Even with all the absences they’ll have more than enough talent to kill this one off early, rest crucial players in the second half and give the many youngsters on the bench a chance to play.
Take it seriously, get it done, move on to El Clásico. The mission is pretty simple.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Alonso, Alba; Kessie, Busquets, Gavi; Ferran, Lewandowski, Fati
Elche (5-4-1): Badia; Carmona, Palacios, Verdu, Bigas, Clerc; Milla, Mascarell, Gumbau, Chaves; Ponce
Elche have no chance of saving themselves but will no doubt try to put up a good fight against the leaders in front of their fans. Barça are usually bad after the international break and are missing key pieces so I don’t expect a super clean, dominant victory. But the three points are still coming: 2-0 to the good guys.