Barcelona will be aiming to end 2018 as the clear leaders in the La Liga title race, as they welcome Celta Vigo to Camp Nou on Saturday evening.

Spanish top-flight teams will take to the field for the final time in 2018, with Matchday 17 of the La Liga season. The side that will have their sights set on ending the year as the front runners in the title race will be Barcelona, who play hosts to Celta Vigo on Saturday evening.

Barcelona have been on a roll, at least as far as La Liga football is concerned, with Atletico Madrid being the last side to take any points off them. In fact, Ernesto Valverde’s men haven’t lost across all competitions in any of their last seven games, with the shock loss to Real Betis being the positive catalyst for them.

Celta Vigo, on the other hand, have blown hot and cold all through the season, which has been a trend for them ever since they returned to the Spanish top-flight in 2012. But, the Sky Blues have built up a mini three-game unbeaten run in La Liga, although Barcelona present their toughest test yet this term.

The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-2 draw, with both sides leading – for less than two minutes each – at different stages of the game. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are in fine form for Barca. (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are in fine form for Barca. (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

While the results have been fantastic, Ernesto Valverde has been receiving good news on the injury front as well. The Barcelona boss is now without just three first-team players, with several regulars shrugging off their fitness troubles to make themselves available this weekend.

The major problem for Barcelona remains the heart of the defence, with Samuel Umtiti (knee) and Thomas Vermaelen (calf) on the sidelines. The Blaugrana have solved some of their central defensive problems by signing Jeison Murillo from Valencia on a short-term loan deal.

The Colombian is unlikely to be thrust into the starting lineup straightaway, especially with Clement Lenglet now well settled at Camp Nou. In fact, Valverde was only forced to play a back-three last weekend against Levante due to the unavailability of a natural right-back.

But, with both Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto available for the visit of Celta Vigo, Valverde should revert to the trusted 4-3-3. As far as the aforementioned right-back slot is concerned, the in-form Semedo should return to the side, while Jordi Alba is a certain starter on the opposite flank.

In midfield, Rafinha is the only player unavailable for Valverde, with the Barcelona academy project on the sidelines for the rest of the season. With the visit of Celta Vigo being the final game for the hosts before the winter break, Valverde should name his strongest lineup, meaning Arthur should return to the starting lineup, with Arturo Vidal making way.

Up ahead in attack, there is no replacing the in-form duo of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, who was awarded the European Golden Shoe for a record fifth time earlier this week. The final spot is a toss-up between Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, with the latter being in favour lately.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Luis Suarez, Dembele

Barcelona

Celta Vigo

The mood in the Celta Vigo camp has definitely improved since the arrival of Miguel Cardoso. While they did lose their first league game under the Portuguese, the visitors have since amassed seven points from the subsequent three games, with the players taking to their manager’s ways.

Cardoso is further helped by the fact that he has just one player unavailable, with Mathias Jensen recovering from a long-term hamstring complaint. One player who seems to have benefited the most from Cardoso’s appointment as the Celta Vigo boss is Ruben Blanco, who’s once again the no. 1 for the visitors.

As far as the outfield players are concerned, Cardoso has preferred employing the 4-4-2, with Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez – who account for 18 of the 28 goals the Celta have scored this season – starting as the strike partnership. The front men will likely be supported by Sofiane Boufal and the impressive Brais Mendez.

Jozabed Sanchez and Okay Yokuslu seem to be Cardoso’s favoured midfield pivot, with the duo tasked with keeping things tight in the middle of the park, especially with the defence being highly susceptible.

Speaking of the defence, Nesto Araujo and David Costas will have to play out of their skins to ensure a positive result for the visitors, while Hugo Mallo and David Junca will hope to affect play on both ends.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Blanco; Mallo, Araujo, Costas, Junca; Mendez, Jozabed Sanchez, Yokuslu, Boufal; Aspas, Gomez

Celta

Key Stats

  • The last 6 meetings between Barcelona and Celta Vigo have produced 2 wins each and 2 draws. Celta have lost on 3 of their last 4 trips to Camp Nou though, conceding 5 or more in each of those defeats.
  • Celta de Vigo have kept clean sheets in two of their four La Liga games under Miguel Cardoso (W2 D1 L1), as many as they had in 12 league games under Antonio Mohamed (W3 D5 L4).
  • Ernesto Valverde has not lost any of his 15 managerial games against Celta de Vigo in La Liga (W10 D5), drawing both of the games he has overseen as the Barcelona boss.
  • Barcelona have scored 100 league goals in 2018, more than any other big five European League team.
  • Lionel Messi (14) and Luis Suárez (11) have scored 25 La Liga goals between them, more than 16 teams in the competition this season.

Player to Watch

Iago Aspas

Will Aspas join the party once again? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Will Aspas join the party once again? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

That the return to Celta Vigo has been the antidote to Iago Aspas’ career is common knowledge by now. But, a closer inspection suggests that the Spanish international has made a lot of his name thanks to his exploits against the best of sides, having revelled on the biggest occasions.

Barcelona, in particular, are one of his favourites opponents, with Aspas scoring five goals in seven meetings with the La Liga champions. On Saturday, the output of the top scoring Spaniard in La Liga (21 goals) will be key if Celta Vigo are to take anything back home from Camp Nou.

Prediction

Barcelona 2-1 Celta Vigo

Celta Vigo have turned a corner ever since Miguel Cardoso took charge, but the game against Barcelona threatens to undo a lot of the good work the Portuguese has done since taking over at Balaidos. The Galicians though, have been at their best against the best of sides, with last season’s twin draws against the La Liga champions being a testament to the same.

But, Barcelona are starting to come into their own, especially with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez being in menacing form. We expect Celta Vigo to take the game to the hosts, although Ernesto Valverde’s men should have enough quality to grab all three points in the end. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the defending champions.

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