Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero, Elche
May 11, 2014; 18:00 BST
With just two games to go for the end of this year’s Spanish La Liga, the race for the title is one that is still up for grabs. While all the three top teams dropped points in their latest fixtures, the La Liga is heating up for a climactic finish, one that will be decided at Camp Nou in the last match of the season where Barcelona face Atletico Madrid. However for the title race to reach that stage, Barcelona will have to ease past Elche who are sitting at the 14th spot, involved in their own race to avoid relegation. Just 4 points separate 14th placed Elche and 19th placed Osasuna which means that either of the 6 teams could find themselves missing on the La Liga in the coming season if they don’t take points off their remaining 2 fixtures.
Team news and tactics
In a bid to avoid relegation, Elche face two tough opponents in their remaining two fixtures, starting with Barcelona on Sunday. Probably their toughest fixture of the season, in terms of importance, Elche will be desperate to avoid a defeat if they are to maintain their status quo. Having won only two of their previous five fixtures, the 14th placed club is aware that they cannot visit Sevilla on their last match hoping for 3 points.
The fact that Elche have been defensively strong this season will be an interesting factor on Sunday as they will be hoping to keep Barcelona at bay who have been given a lifeline by fellow contenders Real Madrid. They have conceded just 47 goals this season and have their centre backs Botia and Lomban to thank for their defensive prowess. But Botia will not feature against Barcelona as he is serving a two match suspension which means that Pelegrin will take his place on Sunday. However they are one of the worst-scoring sides in Spain, having scored only 29 goals in 36 fixtures. Strikers Boakye, Gil and Herrera have failed to score enough goals this season and will be hoping to make amends at home against Barcelona. Winger Coro has been their best offensive player this season. Operating on the right flank, he has scored the most goals and provided the most assists for Elche this season. He will be looking to attack Adriano on the left flank and will be Barcelona’s biggest threat on Sunday. With Barcelona struggling under Tata Martino to win games away from home, Elche will have to defend tight and counter aggressively if they are to remain afloat at the end of the season.
Expected Line Up (4-2-3-1): Manu Herrera (GK);Pelegrin, Lomban, Suarez, Cisma; Perez, Sanchez, Coro, Mendes, Marquez; Boakye
Having slipped in the title race, with their manager and players acdepting that the title was beyond them this season, Barcelona have been handed a lifeline with Real Madrid drawing their last fixture. Which essentially means that if Barcelona beat Elche on Sunday, they will walk into Camp Nou on the last day of the season knowing that a win will be enough to retain the Spanish La Liga.
Barcelona’s concerns this season has been multifold. Their inability to perform away from home, coupled with their injury concerns, especially to their defenders has resulted in a miserable season. But the Catalans have the chance to make amends if they can go on to win their coming two fixtures. However the previous year’s champions are not in the best of shape, having narrowly avoided defeat against Villarreal and then drawing against Getafe in their last fixture. Victor Valdes, Pique, Puyol and Jordi Alba remain injured which means that Mascherano and Bartra will be leading the Catalan defence on Sunday. Neymar too remains injured and Martino might prefer to start both Pedro and Sanchez on Sunday as he has done on previous occasions to provide more width to the team. While Busquests will be playing the holding midfielder’s role, the responsibility will once again fall on Messi, Iniesta and Xavi to lead the team.
If Tata Martino’s team is to win away from home, they will have to make sure that they are defensively strong. Alves and Adriano will be expected to rein themselves and be available to fall back quickly to quell any counter-attacks. And Messi and Iniesta will have to weave their magic if they are to score upfront. Running out of steam, Barcelona will have to dig deep if they are to win any silverware this season.
Expected Line Up (4-3-3): Pinto (GK); Mascherano, Bartra, Adriano, Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Sanchez; Messi
Players To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Lionel Messi and Iniesta remain the players to watch out for in each of Barcelona’s fixtures. The two remain sacred to Barcelona’s success and will be expected to show maturity if the Catalans are to pull this miracle off. Meanhwile all eyes will be on Elche’s Coro who will be keen to make a mark on such a big stage and rescue Elche’s chances of surviving this league. Their best player this season, he is definitely a player to watch out for on Sunday.
Elche 1-2 Barcelona
With both teams having a lot to fight for, this battle will be one that will go down to the wire. However Barcelona’s mighty squad are expected to win on Sunday setting the league up for a dramatic finale.