Barcelona host Girona in La Liga in a vital clash, where the league leaders will be hoping to get back to winning ways after their midweek draw in Europe.

Barcelona know they need a solid victory against Girona in La Liga to keep second-placed Atletico Madrid at bay, as the gap between them is only seven points. The hosts come into this game at the back a 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the Champions League, although their previous league game was a solid 2-0 win at Eibar.

Barcelona remain unbeaten in La Liga this season and would be hoping to continue this trend for as long as possible, but their opponents on the weekend are this year’s surprise package Girona, who are 8th on the table. Additionally, Barcelona have looked tired in recent games, having played a 14 games this year already.

The Blaugrana will be playing Las Palmas on Thursday too, so Ernesto Valverde will be looking to rotate his side for the Girona game, with fringe players expected to play a part in it.

Girona come into this game on the back of an impressive 3-0 win against Leganes last weekend. Girona are playing in La Liga for the very first time in their history and have been impressive this season while currently occupying the 8th spot on the table, having already beaten champions Real Madrid and held Atletico Madrid to two draws.

Team News and Tactics

Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde will be expected to rotate his side for the Girona clash after playing with key players for so many games already in 2018. There could be returns for a few regulars as well fringe players, who will be looking to impress the Barcelona manager to use them for the remainder of the season.

The hosts will have a full-strength squad barring a few small concerns. Sergi Samper is the only long-term absentee in the team who is not expected to be back until June. Gerard Pique is reportedly doubtful after sustaining a knock against Chelsea in the Champions League, meaning Yerry Mina or Thomas Vermaelen could feature in his place.

Philippe Coutinho could be back in the squad after missing the Chelsea clash as he was ineligible to play in the Champions League. Valverde could also include injury plagued French forward Ousmane Dembele, as he looks to rest a few forwards for the Girona clash.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): ter Stegen; Semedo, Vermaelen, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Busquets, Rakitic, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez

Team News and Tactics

Girona

Girona, like Barcelona, have a near full-strength squad at their disposal for this clash. This means the same team, that impressively beat Leganes 3-0 in the last matchday could feature again.

The only absentee through injury is defender Pedro Alaca, who has been out with an ankle injury since September.  Girona are expected start with their impressive strike-duo of Portu and Cristhian Stuani, who have 22 goals between them this season.

Probable Starting Lineup (3-5-2): Bono; Ramalho, Espinosa, Juanpe; Aday, Garcia, Garcia, Granell, Mojica; Portu, Stuani

Key Stats

  • This is only the second time the teams meet in the history of La Liga, with the first coming this season as well when Barcelona won 3-0 away at Girona.
  • Barcelona (P31 W26 D5) have equalled their best unbeaten run in La Liga history (P31 W27 D4 under Pep Guardiola in April 2011).
  • Girona are the only current La Liga team Lionel Messi is yet to score against.
  • Girona have conceded a league-high 20 per cent of their goals within the first 15 minutes this season
  • Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 19 Catalonian league derbies played since February 21, 2009.

Player to Watch

Philippe Coutinho

TOPSHOT - Barcelona's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho celebrates a goal during the Spanish 'Copa del Rey' (King's cup) second leg semi-final football match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on February 8, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JOSE JORDAN (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Philippe Coutinho will be looking to cement his place in the Barcelona starting lineup with some good performances ahead. (Photo courtsy: AFP/Getty Images)

Signed in a club record deal from Liverpool in the January window, Philippe Coutinho is not precisely the starter he was expected to become at Barcelona. Despite the fact that he has opened his scoring and assists tally at Barca, a lot still needs to be done before he can be considered by Valverde as an automatic starter for the club.

While summer signing Ousmane Dembele was expected to do bigger things at Camp Nou, he has so far failed to establish himself in the aftermath of a long injury layoff. While it is understood that there could only be a place for one among those two, the Girona clash could be vital for both to show their capabilities.

Coutinho would be looking to take this game as an opportunity to do so and win a place in the starting XI for the remainder of the season.

Prediction

Barcelona 4-0 Girona

There are always doubts on any team when they rotate heavily for a game, but considering Barcelona’s squad depth and overall quality of those replacing the first-team stars, the result is quite an obvious one.

That coupled with Girona’s shyness to score away from home could pave the way for Barcelona to come out with three points after the clash is over. Expect the hosts to collect those points in style and goals. We predict a 4-0 win for Ernesto Valverde & co.

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