Camp Nou, Barcelona
Sunday, March 2, 21:00 GMT
After a disappointing and highly compromising loss at Anoeta against Real Sociedad last weekend, Barcelona have seen their margin for error in La Liga pretty much vanish for good, every match is a must-win starting with this weekend’s hosting of Almeria, the club against whom Messi’s injury woes of this season began back in October. With Atlético and Real Madrid facing off in the Madrid derby this weekend, this might potentially be a chance for Barcelona to cut the deficit – or even eliminate it altogether – at the top of the table, one they cannot waste against a side that is, as expected from the start, in a titanic struggle to avoid relegation.
Team News and Tactical Brief
It goes without saying that for Barcelona only winning matters. If that is usually the case anyway, it is even more so in this match after falling 3 points behind Real Madrid last weekend with a loss at the Anoeta. Any more ground conceeded might prove to be decisive in the La Liga title race and in a weekend where Real Madrid will play at the Caldéron against the other title contenders, Atlético Madrid, the match against Almeria might even prove to be an opportunity to reduce or even eliminate the gap. When the match kicks off at the Camp Nou, the Barcelona players and manager will already know the result of the Madrid derby, which might give them an added motivation or sense of urgency.
Valdés will start as usual, but there are some doubts regarding the back four, with Piqué injured while Puyol and Alba have been declared fit. Alba is likely to start at the back, but Puyol will probably not be rushed back, with Bartra and Mascherano being given the nod and Alves as a right back. In midfield, the usual ‘golden’ trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should feature, with Messi, Pedro and one of Sanchez and Neymar up front. Given the importance of the match and the fact that there’s no Champions League match in midweek it’s very unlikely that Tata Martino will rest any key players, any margin for error there might have been ended last week and every league game is a final now.
With that in mind, we can expect a Barcelona side at maximum intensity from the get-go, looking to score as early as possible and never taking their foot off the pedal. A home match against Almeria seems like the ideal match to get back on track and regain some much needed confidence going forward. While they’ve been struggling on the road, Barcelona have remained quite dominant at Camp Nou with the exception of their shocking loss to Valencia a few weeks ago, their only home loss in La Liga since May 2012.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Victor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Marc Bartra, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi
As expected from the beginning of the season, Almeria are currently fighting to avoid relegation, sitting only three points above the relegation zone at the moment. A trip to the Camp Nou is far from the best opportunity to collect some much needed points, but it could equally prove a massive motivational boost should they succeed and the fact that Barcelona will be under great pressure might give Almeria some hope. Their manager Francisco Rodríguez has admitted that he’d take a draw in this match, which seems like a very realistic outlook/expectation given the gulf in resources between the two sides. Almeria’s priority will be to defend as well as they can to maximize their chances of snatching a point, as well as avoiding any suspensions for the more decisive matches they will have within the next few weeks.
Francisco Rodriguez is likely to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation, with emphasis on keeping the lines close and compact and give as little space as possible for Barcelona. Esteban will be the keeper, with a back four of Dubarbier, Torsiglieri, Turjillo and Rafita ahead of him, sheilded by Verza and Azeez; Suso, Barbosa and Vidal will play behind the lone striker Rodri, looking to catch Barcelona off guard in the counterattack. It will be a match of sacrifice for Almeria, especially their wingers and forward, who will have the double mission of helping the team defend at all times and run into the open space left by Barcelona in the few opportunities they’re likely to have to surprise the Catalans on the break.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Esteban; Dubarbier, Torsiglieri, Turjillo, Rafita; Verza, Azeez; Suso, Barbosa, Vidal; Rodri
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona have won 26 of their past 27 league matches at the Camp Nou.
- In the first half of the season, Barcelona won 2-0 at Almeria, in the match where Lionel Messi’s injury problems this season began.
- Barcelona have won all of their last four matches against Almeria – all in 2010-2011, two for the league, two for the Copa – with an aggregate score of 19-1 (8-0, 5-0, 3-0, 3-1)
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
By his standards, this season and the last 12 months in general have been somewhat disappointing for Lionel Messi, but he remains Barcelona’s main hope as they attempt to recapture the La Liga title. Every Barcelona supporter is hoping the Argentina prodigy can recapture the sort of form that helped him inspire the club to two Champions League titles and three La Ligas among other trophies while breaking every scoring record imaginable and racking up four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards in the process – which is what the club needs to achieve their goals this season. This match against Almeria is a good chance for Messi to recapture that sort of form and confidence.
FC Barcelona 3-0 UD Almeria
Almeria will fight bravely, but ultimately they won’t be able to put up much more of a resistance than they did back in 2011 given the big difference in quality and resources between both sides; Messi and Sanchez will score and Barcelona will keep pace in the title race.