After a break of almost three months Barcelona are finally back in action on Saturday with a trip to relegation-threatened Real Mallorca. It will be a bit different of course after such a long lay-off and with the game being played behind closed doors, so let’s have a look at some of the talking points.
Luis Suarez to make welcome return
Luis Suarez’s season looked over when he had knee surgery in January, but the suspension of the season means he will now have a chance to play a part in the run-in.
The Uruguay international has been given the green light to return by Barca’s medical department, but Quique Setien has made it clear he’ll be careful with the 32-year-old.
The Barca boss said on Tuesday he won’t play all 90 minutes against Real Mallorca as he thinks it would be “reckless” to put him straight back in after such a long time out.
Barcelona will still be hoping Suarez can hit the ground running. For all the criticism he’s received this season he’s still scored 11 goals in 17 La Liga matches, only Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema have better records in La Liga this season.
Arthur with a point to prove
Arthur has been all over the headlines in lockdown regarding a possible move to Juventus.
The midfielder says he doesn’t want to go, but the rumors keep coming which suggests something is going on. Quite what it’s difficult to know.
In any case there will be plenty of focus on the Brazilian against Real Mallorca, but he’s not guaranteed a start.
Indeed Sport ran a piece earlier this week suggesting Quique Setien will opt for a midfield of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Arturo Vidal on Saturday.
Arthur has had a mixed second season at Barcelona. Injury has disrupted his campaign but when he has played Barca have often looked far better in possession.
The Brazilian may feel he has a point to prove if he does start on Saturday and that can only help Barcelona during their last 11 games.
How will the new subs rule affect Barca?
Setien has already admitted he’s worried about the new five substitutes rule hurting Barcelona because it will allow teams to be fresher for longer.
“I think the five substitutes [rule] is going to harm us because we’ve resolved many games in the final few minutes and our opponents will [now] have fresh legs.”
Jorge Valdano has agreed with Setien, saying Barca won’t be able to wear teams out and pointing out the defending champions have a “very shallow squad.”
The return of Suarez means Barca’s squad is not quite as shallow as it was, while the new rule could give youngsters such as Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig more game time and a chance to impress.
Messi’s fitness under scrutiny
Lionel Messi’s absence from training last week caused a bit of concern but Barca have been keen to play his “minor” injury down ahead of the return of La Liga.
The captain has been back at it this week and does seem in good shape. Setien has said he‘s not expecting him to have any problems facing Real Mallorca.
Messi has certainly has looked sharp in training, if the viral clips that have flown around recently are anything to go by, and Clement Lenglet has said the break has done Messi and Griezmann good as they rarely get time off.
The Argentine has also said he thinks his team could benefit from their break, and Barca would love to see a refreshed and hungry Messi for the final 11 games.
Empty stadiums to help Barca’s away form?
La Liga will be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future and it’s possible it could help Barca’s pretty shaky away form.
Looking at the Bundesliga, which has been the first major European league to resume, you can see that away teams are doing pretty well.
Since the Bundesliga’s return …— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 9, 2020
- Home teams have won 22% of matches, down from 43%
- Home teams' goals per game dropped from 1.75 to 1.28
- Away teams’ winning ratio has risen from 35% to 48%https://t.co/Wy8wkRTSMd pic.twitter.com/PmHf1g9xsb
Barca have already been beaten at Athletic, Levante, Granada, Valencia and Real Madrid this season and a defeat at Mallorca could prove fatal to their chances of retaining their title.
Barca still have to go to Sevilla, Celta, Villarreal, Real Valladolid and Alaves this season, although there’s a slim chance some fans could be allowed in before the end of the campaign.