Defending La Liga champions Barcelona travel to Real Sociedad on Sunday in what is set to be a tricky fixture at their bogey ground, the Anoeta Stadium.
A goalless stalemate against Malaga at Camp Nou saw Barcelona extend their unbeaten domestic run to five games. However, failure to get past the Boquerones meant that Luis Enrique’s men lost further ground to Real Madrid, and are now four points adrift of the league leaders.
Real Sociedad are on an extraordinary run of form, and with four wins on the trot, they are on the periphery of a Top 4 spot. With Barcelona winless in their last six visits to Anoeta, Sociedad could heap further misery on their visitors.
The medical bill is becoming smaller for Barcelona with each passing week, and they have just three players out for the visit to San Sebastian. Aleix Vidal will miss the trip owing to personal reasons, while Samuel Umtiti continues his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury.
French centre-back Umtiti suffered the injury while training with the national squad during the international break a couple of weeks ago and was subsequently ruled out for two further weeks. Turkey international Arda Turan is the third man out, after missing the last two training sessions due to illness.
However, it is more good news than bad for the Barcelona boss, with the club captain Andres Iniesta’s return to first team training. Iniesta’s return is ahead of schedule after the midfielder was initially ruled out for six to eight weeks.
Sunday’s game comes too early for the Spain international as he has only just returned to training. He could, however, make a welcome return to the team next weekend when Barcelona host arch rivals Real Madrid at Camp Nou. Speaking on Umtiti and Iniesta’s progress, Enrique said: “The most important thing with Iniesta and Umtiti is to get them back. The players and doctors will decide.”
Up front, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are set to make a return to the starting lineup after missing last weekend’s match against Malaga. While Suarez was suspended after accumulating five yellow cards, Messi was a last-minute casualty due to an illness.
The return of the duo will provide a definitive boost to Barcelona’s chances of overturning the losing run at Real Sociedad. Messi, in particular, has looked imperious in recent weeks having scored 15 goals in his last ten games, with a brace against Celtic in the midweek Champions League game sealing the top spot for his team in Group C.
Here’s the 18-man squad travelling to Anoeta on Sunday: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Jasper Cillessen, Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Denis Suárez, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha Alcantara, Javier Mascherano, Paco Alcacer, Jordi Alba, Lucas Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Carlos Alena and Marlon