Barcelona will look to extend their 100 percent record in the 2018-19 La Liga campaign, when they take on Girona on Saturday night.

Reigning La Liga champions Barcelona will welcome Eusebio Sacristan’s Girona to Camp Nou for the Catalonian derby, in matchweek five of the 2018-19 La Liga season.

The Catalans are the only club in the league with their 100 percent record still intact, following last week’s comeback 2-1 victory over Real Sociedad. Ernesto Valverde’s men followed it up with the 4-0 trouncing of Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League during the midweek. And the manager will be hoping that his team will carry on in the same vein of form on Sunday night.

Girona find themselves in the ninth position in the La Liga table, with seven points from four matches till date (2W,1D,1L). They come into the game on a good run of form, having registered consecutive victories against Villarreal and Celta Vigo, following their defeat at the hands of Real Madrid. Their last visit to Camp Nou ended in a 6-1 drubbing and manager Sacristan will be keen on avoiding a similar fate this time out.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Summer signing Arthur Melo did not train with the rest of the team on Friday due to gastroenteritis, but is expected to be available for the game. Fellow new arrival Malcom is also in line for a return from injury, having trained with the team. Academy product Sergi Samper has also been cleared by the medical staff for the weekend’s game.

Valverde is expected to field his strongest team, after surviving a scare against Sociedad with an altered squad last weekend. German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the undisputed No.1 at Camp Nou and will start between the sticks on Sunday.

Sergi Roberto will start at right-back ahead of Nelson Semedo, with Jordi Alba on the opposite side and will look to provide support going forward. The central defensive partnership of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti is set to continue, meaning Clement Lenglet will be left out again.

Philippe Coutinho and Sergio Busquets are guaranteed starters in the middle of the park, after having been shockingly omitted from the lineup against Sociedad last weekend. Ivan Rakitic will occupy the third midfield slot for Barcelona.

Upfront, Luis Suarez will spearhead the attack for the Catalans, having shown signs of form in recent games. Ousmane Dembele will once again be key from the left-hand side, but captain Lionel Messi will carry the biggest threat for Barca from the right side of the attacking trident.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez, Dembele;

Girona

Johan Mojica and Carles Planas are unavailable for the visiting side, while Jonas Ramalho is also a doubt for Sacristan’s side for the trip to Camp Nou. Girona usually set up in the 3-4-2-1 formation and hit teams on the break, which the manager is unlikely to change for the derby on Sunday.

In goal, 27-year old Bono will start and hope to keep the Barcelona attack out. However, he will need all the support he can get from the three-man backline comprising of Bernardo Espinosa, Juanpe and Pedro Alcala, who scored in the win over Celta Vigo. Wing-backs Pedro Porro and Aday Benitez will also have their tasks cut out against the marauding Barca full-backs.

30-year old captain Alex Granell, who hasn’t missed a single minute of action so far in the season, will hold fort in the middle of the park, in the company of Manchester City loanee Douglas Luiz, who will try and impact the proceedings in the attacking half of the pitch.

The Spanish duo of Portu and Borja Garcia will occupy the attacking midfield slots on the right and the left channels and offer support to in-form striker Cristhian Stuani, who bagged a double in the last game against Celta Vigo.

Probable Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Bono; Espinosa, Juanpe, Alcala; Porro, Granell, Luiz, Aday; Portu, Garcia; Stuani;

Key Stats

  • Barcelona haven’t lost a Catalonian derby in La Liga since February 2009, losing 2-1 to Espanyol at Camp Nou (W16 D4), while Girona have lost three of their four derbies in the top-flight (W1).
  • The reigning champions are unbeaten in their last 38 La Liga home games (W32 D6), their longest run at Camp Nou in the competition since their 40 unbeaten home games between October 1991 and November 1993.
  • Girona have not lost any of their last four La Liga away games (W3 D1), after winning just one of their previous nine in the competition (D2 L6).
  • Barca striker Luis Suarez has been involved in six goals in his two league games against Girona (four goals and two assists), including a hat-trick at Camp Nou last season.
  • Cristhian Stuani has scored each of Girona’s last five away La Liga goals, with two of them coming from the penalty spot.

Player to watch

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Skipper in form (Photo courtesy - Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Skipper in form (Photo courtesy – Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

After a rather dull display against Real Sociedad last weekend, the little magician bounced back with a resounding performance in the Champions’ League demolition of PSV. Messi led the Catalans’ from the front against the champions of Netherlands, scoring a brilliant hat-trick.

The 31-year old has already notched up seven goals and three assists in just six matches across all competitions. Last season, Messi scored twice and set up one more in the two games against Girona. And judging by his midweek performance, the Girona defence will have a huge task to keep him quiet on Sunday night.

Prediction

Barcelona 3-1 Girona

Girona come into the game on the back of two wins and have played fearless football so far this season. They might have been defeated heavily by Real Madrid last month, but they managed to cause a lot of problems to Los Blancos and are likely to do the same on Sunday as well.

Barcelona, despite their 100 percent record, looked far from their best against Real Sociedad last weekend. But the midweek victory will have given them a major boost. Dembele and Coutinho have been in fine form, Messi scored a hat-trick three days ago, while Suarez too is hitting the right notes after a slow start.

With their attack in full flow, the champions will take some serious stopping. As a result, we at The Hard Tackle expect Barcelona to make it five wins in five league games and hold on to their top spot in the table.

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