Deportivo Alavés (11th, 26pts) vs FC Barcelona (4th, 47pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 23
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Marc-André ter Stegen, Gavi, Alejandro Balde, Ferran Torres, Raphinha, Sergi Roberto, João Félix, Marcos Alonso (out)
Alavés Outs & Doubts: Aleksandar Sedlar, Andoni Gorosabel (out)
Date/Time: Saturday, February 3, 2024, 6.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 5.30pm GMT (UK), 12.30pm ET, 9.30am PT (USA), 11pm IST (India)
Venue: Mendizorrotza Stadium, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain
Referee: Juan Martínez Munuera
VAR: Mario Melero López
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), TSN 5 (Canada), Not Available (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought victory against Osasuna at home in midweek, Barcelona begin a new month with another important La Liga clash against a tough mid-table side as the Blaugrana travel to the Basque Country to face Deportivo Alavés at the Mendizorrotza on Saturday evening.
Barça come into this one after picking up three crucial points to solidify their position in the Top 4 and still keep their (very) remote title chances alive. Only a miracle will allow the Catalans to defend their La Liga crown, but Girona face Real Sociedad and there’s a monster Madrid Derby to close out the weekend.
If the Blaugrana win and the three teams above them in the table all drop points, which would necessarily mean a draw between Real and Atlético on Sunday, then the Catalans will find themselves in a similar spot as they were before the disastrous loss to Villarreal last week with 15 matches still to play and direct matchups against Girona, Real and Atlético to come.
Xavi Hernández and his troops need a lot of help from others, but they must do their homework first. The next few weeks bring a promising schedule with a ton of winnable games while the leaders have very difficult matchups, so Barça can still dream of making a remarkable run to the title if they do their part.
But having winnable games on the schedule doesn’t mean they’ll be easy. Barça haven’t played an easy game this season since their magical run in September, and every single opponent has made the Catalans work really hard for every goal and point they’ve earned. A lot of it is due to self-inflicted wounds, including in the first matchup between these two.
Alavés scored in the first minute of their visit to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium earlier this season, and striker Samu Omorodion could have easily had a hat-trick in the first 25 minutes of that match. Barça recovered to win 2-1 and dominated the second half, but they could have easily lost that game in the opening 45 minutes.
Alavés know the formula for frustrating Barça, and they get to have the home crowd on their side for this one. The Basque side are in great form, winning their last three and keeping two clean sheets in a row in the league. Their last La Liga defeat was at home to Real Madrid in late December, and they’ve played very well through a brutal schedule since then which included Copa del Rey ties against Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao as well as a local derby against Real Sociedad in the league.
They are very well coached and know what to do with the ball, and their speed up front can cause a vulnerable Barça defense a lot of problems. The Blaugrana must be at their best in possession to not lose the ball in dangerous places, and their ability to win the ball back with effective pressing will be paramount to avoid giving Alavés easy counter-attacking opportunities.
Even if Barça were at their top of their game this would be a tough test, so it should be even more difficult considering the Blaugrana’s inconsistent play this season. Alavés are confident in their ability to pull off the upset, and the crowd will be up for it from the start. It’ll be tough, but Barça cannot afford to drop points in what could be a very important weekend for their title hopes.
Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Cancelo; Pedri, De Jong; Yamal, Gündogan, Fermín; Lewandowski
Alavés (4-3-3): Sivera; Tenaglia, Marin, Abqar, López; Guevara, Blanco, Guridi; Alkain, Samu, Rioja
Alavés are in great form and already caused Barça plenty of problems this season. This won’t be easy and there might be quite a few scares throughout the evening, but I’ll still bet on the good guys to find a way to win: 2-1 Barça.