Barcelona will be hoping to take a step closer to the La Liga title with a win against bottom side SD Huesca away from home on Saturday.
After their European commitments in the midweek, Barcelona will turn their attention back towards the 2018-19 La Liga, where they are penned to travel to Estadio El Alcoraz for a contest against Huesca this weekend.
Barcelona have a solid eleven-point lead at the top of the La Liga table, following their 2-0 win against second-placed Atletico Madrid last weekend. Post that match, the Catalans travelled to England to face off against Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie and returned triumphant, bagging a narrow 1-0 win.
Ernesto Valverde’s men have a good chance of wrapping up the league title by the end of this month, provided Atletico Madrid slip up. And they will want to avoid any slip-up at this moment of the season and get to the finish line at the earliest possible.
Huesca, on the other hand, find themselves at the other end of the spectrum. Stuck to the rock-bottom of the table, with just 24 points from 31 matches, the Aragon-based outfit are the prime candidates for relegation as they sit six points below safety.
Huesca can, however, take some confidence from their recent fixtures, having ran Real Madrid close in a 3-2 defeat at Santiago Bernabeu, before churning out back-to-back draws against Celta Vigo (3-3) and Levante (2-2). The last time they faced the champions, Francisco’s side were thrashed 8-2 and they will be hoping to avoid a similar outcome at home this weekend.
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Huesca have almost their complete squad available for the big game against Barcelona. Only Carlos Akapo is a doubt with an injury, along with long-term absentees Luisinho and Pablo Insua. They have been boosted by the return of defender Xabier Etxeita, who missed the last game with suspension.
Having switched to a 4-3-3 formation for the last game against Levante, Huesca are likely to revert to the 5-3-2 setup against Barcelona on Saturday. In goal, Roberto Santamaria will be in for a busy day at the office. The 34-year-old veteran will be shielded by a three-man centre-back partnership of the returning Etxeita, Jorge Pulido and Martin Mantovani.
Javi Galan and Jorge Miramon will take up the full-back slots and will be the only source of providing any sort of width going forward for Huesca, although they are likely to kept pinned back by their Barcelona counterparts.
21-year-old Manchester City loanee Yangel Herrera will provide additional shield to the defence from the middle of the park. The youngster will be supported by Christian Rivera, while Moi Gomez will take up the third midfield slot and look to provide some forward thrust and creative presence.
Ezequiel Avila is Huesca’s leading goalscorer this season with eight strikes to his name. He will take up one of the two slots in attack, while the second spot is likely to be occupied by 32-year-old Enric Gallego, who has scored in the last two matches.
Probable Lineup (5-3-2): Santamaria; Miramon, Pulido, Etxeita, Mantovani, Galan; Rivera, Herrera, Gomez; Avila, Gallego
Valverde is expected to make quite a few changes to the starting lineup for the trip to Huesca, with the all-important second leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United on the horizon. Barcelona will be without the services of defensive mainstay Gerard Pique and star striker Luis Suarez, both of whom are suspended.
Lionel Messi has been left out of the 18-man matchday squad by the manager, along with Sergio Busquets, while Sergi Roberto, Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha Alcantara are all out with injuries. Ivan Rakitic has also been ruled out due to fever. Ousmane Dembele is fit again and should be in line for a return to the lineup.
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Marc-Andre ter Stegen should continue between the sticks for the Catalans on Saturday and will have the central defensive partnership of Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti shielding him. The French duo did not perform all too well the last time they played together in the 4-4 draw against Villarreal and will be hoping for a better display.
Nelson Semedo is nailed on for the right-back slot with Sergi Roberto unavailable and with no cover at the left-back position, Jordi Alba should once again start for Barcelona.
There will be changes in the midfield, with Arturo Vidal set to start as the deepest midfielder, while Carles Alena should also get a run-out at the weekend. Philippe Coutinho could be moved into his preferred central midfield role by Valverde in order to afford some rest to Arthur at the weekend.
Malcom is all set to start out on the right flank in captain Messi’s absence, while Dembele should get a start on the left-side, although the Frenchman is unlikely to feature for more than an hour. With Suarez unavailable, Kevin-Prince Boateng will slot in as the striker for Barcelona.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Lenglet, Umtiti, Alba; Alena, Vidal, Coutinho; Malcom, Boateng, Dembele
- This will be Barcelona’s first ever league trip to Huesca in their history. Barcelona have won their three previous competitive games against Huesca, two in the Copa del Rey in 2014-15 and one in La Liga this season (scoring 20 goals and conceding three).
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 12 away games in La Liga (W8 D4).
- Huesca boss Francisco has lost his three managerial La Liga games against FC Barcelona, all of them in charge of Almeria, conceding eight goals in the process.
- Barcelona have collected a league-high ten points from goals scored in the last 10 minutes of games this season.
- Huesca forward Ezequiel Avila has been directly involved in six goals in his last six La Liga appearances (four goals and two assists).
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Having missed the last four league games with an injury, the Frenchman is fully fit again and back into contention for selection. Dembele made it to the matchday squad for the game against Manchester United earlier in the week, but remained an unused substitute, although he is likely to be given a start on Saturday afternoon.
Dembele’s absence has been a bit of a problem for Barcelona, with his replacement Philippe Coutinho not able to make a similar kind of impact. With the 21-year-old back, the Catalans will have the pace and directness in the final third that seemed to be lacking against Manchester United on Wednesday.
With both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez not available for the Huesca game, the responsibility will be on Dembele to step up and make the difference, by adding to his tally of 14 goals and 8 assists this season.
Huesca 1-3 Barcelona
Huesca come into the game on the back of two high-scoring draws. The fact that Barcelona’s defence will be weakened by the absence of Gerard Pique will not be lost on them and they will look to exploit the Umtiti-Lenglet partnership that struggled against Villarreal.
With no Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in attack, Barcelona will not carry the same threat as usual. However, they will be going up against the second-worst defence in La Liga this season, which shouldn’t pose a big problem. With Malcom looking in good nick recently and Ousmane Dembele returning, they should coast to an easy victory at Estadio El Alcoraz on Saturday.