UD Las Palmas (10th, 25pts) vs FC Barcelona (4th, 38pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 19
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Marc-André ter Stegen, Pedri, Gavi, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso (out)
Las Palmas Outs & Doubts: Julián Araujo (out), Alberto Moleiro, Fabio González (doubt)
Date/Time: Thursday, 9.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8.30pm GMT (UK), 3.30pm ET, 12.30pm PT (USA), 2am IST (India, Friday)
Venue: Estadio de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Referee: Pablo González Fuertes
VAR: Mario Melero López
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a much-needed holiday break and a week of training in beautiful Catalonia, Barcelona begin a new year with the first La Liga match of 2024 as they reach the halfway mark of the season with an away game against Las Palmas at the Estadio de Gran Canaria on Thursday Night Fútbol.
Barça come into this one looking to rebound from a tough December, which ended in a victory against Almería but was filled with bad results and even worse performances in the league and in Europe. The Blaugrana continue to deal with key injuries and are about to enter a brutal stretch in what is always a busy and difficult Janury schedule in Spain, but the Catalans are hoping that the time off over Christmas was enough to recharge the batteries and get away from the negativity to begin anew with the flip of the calendar.
Xavi Hernández has six giant months ahead as he looks to keep his job ahead of next season, and with Barça still competing in all fronts the boss will hope to lead his troops to success domestically and in continental play. Trophies are always the hope but reality sometimes offers other paths, but as long as Barça truly compete and show real improvement and progress there will be enough signs that Xavi can still be in charge of this rebuild.
The coach gets a big boost with the arrival of Vitor Roque, who brings youthful energy and scoring talent to a team in desperate need of it, and the Brazilian has already been registered and ready to make his debut. He won’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders, at least from those on the inside, but it would sure be nice if he had an immediate impact even if means providing Robert Lewandowski with real competition to help him get back to his best.
Expecting one Christmas break and a week of training to fix all the problems is stupid and unrealistic, but it’s not unfair to expect to see at least some signs that things are headed in the right direction.
Las Palmas are the surprise package of the season, with a squad filled with journeymen and loan players that are playing great team football under the coaching brilliance of former Barça B manager García Pimienta.
They have the second-worst attack and the second-best defense in the league, but they don’t do it by parking the bus and hoping for a goal on set pieces. They want the ball and they know what to do with it, and their underlying numbers suggest they would be a much more productive attack with more talented players.
Las Palmas are quite simply a really good team, punching above their weight thanks to their fighting spirit and good coaching. They’ve lost only once at home, and every big team that’s played them were given a real game. They want to make Barça “suffer”, by García Pimienta’s own words, and they will absolutely test the Blaugrana from start to finish.
If Barça have gotten better at all since we’ve last seen them, they should win what will probably be a low-scoring, tough game. But if the big problems with and without the ball haven’t been adressed, we could be in for another frustrating night.
After being thoroughly disgusted by recent performances and allowing that negativity to take over, I’ve decided to go back to Optimist Renato and I want to fully support and trust this team through all the ups and downs. New year, new me. Well, I don’t have a choice anyway. I love this damn club and I can’t do anything about it.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Kounde, Balde; Roberto, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Ferran
Las Palmas (4-3-3): Vallés; Suárez, Coco, Mármol, Cardona; Muñoz, Rodríguez, Loiodice; Park, Munir, Pejino
Las Palmas are legit good, especially at home, but I have a feeling Barça will be hungry to erase the memory of December and start the new year on a high: 2-0 to the good guys and an encouraging performance.