Barcelona will hope to continue their winning momentum ahead of their next clash with Liverpool when they take on Celta Vigo at Balaidos.
The La Liga title race is done and dusted, with three games yet to be played. Barcelona had their title coronation last week, and they will be hoping to not let their momentum snap, even though a number of fringe players are set to start, when they lock horns with Celta Vigo at Balaidos on Saturday night.
Celta Vigo have had a season to forget, having grappled with a relegation battle for much of their 2018-19 campaign. The poor run of results has seen two managers lose their jobs, with both Antonio Mohamed and Miguel Cardoso being dismissed, before Fran Escriba finally improving their standing.
Indeed, results in recent weeks have stabilised their position, with the Celticos now up to 15th on the La Liga table, although they are still not completely out of the woods yet, with 18th placed Real Valladolid only two points behind them. Barcelona, on the other hand, are enjoying a fine campaign thus far, having already secured one trophy.
The Blaugrana have won the La Liga title for a second successive season, wrapping up their triumph last weekend following a 1-0 win over Levante. Ernesto Valverde’s men are also in the Copa del Rey final, while also having taken a big step towards progressing from the UEFA Champions League semi-finals this week, as they handed a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool.
The reverse fixture, played at Camp Nou back in December last year, saw Barcelona cruise to a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo, courtesy goals from Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Fran Escriba does not have many pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Saturday, the Celta Vigo boss will be without just one first-team player, with Emre Mor recovering from a knock he sustained last month.
In fact, Escriba has only greeted more good news this week, with David Junca passed fit to return after recovering from a groin injury. Iago Aspas is not showing any effects of a minor shoulder injury he sustained last week, while Okay Yokuslu is back from suspension.
Yokuslu and Junca should slot back into the starting lineup straightaway, replacing Lucas Olaza and Jozabed Sanchez, respectively. Joining Junca at the back, should be Celta captain Hugo Mallo, Wesley Hoedt and David Costas, with Ruben Blanco protecting the goal.
Up ahead in midfield, Yokuslu’s partner in the middle of the park ought to be Stanislav Lobotka, who will hope to keep things tight. Sofiane Boufal is likely to start out on the left side of the Celta Vigo midfield once again, while Brais Mendez should be deployed on the opposite flank.
Upfront, Aspas will be the man under the spotlight, having been the catalyst of Celta Vigo’s turnaround since his return from injury. The experienced striker will have Maxi Gomez for company as his strike partner.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Blanco; Mallo, Costas, Hoedt, Junca; Mendez, Lobotka, Yokuslu, Boufal; Aspas, Gomez
Rafinha Alcantara remains the only player unavailable for Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, who is set to ring in the changes on Saturday, having rested a number of first-team players with an eye on the return leg against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League semi-final.
In fact, among those who featured against the Reds earlier this week, only Clement Lenglet, Nelson Semedo, Carles Alena, Philippe Coutinho, Arturo Vidal and Ousmane Dembele are part of the travelling squad.
Elsewhere, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are out through suspension, although judging by Valverde’s squad selection, the veteran duo might have been rested anyway. It thus, looks like a lineup similar to the one that faced Huesca last month would be named against Celta Vigo as well, with an entirely new starting eleven likely.
The changes will come into effect right at the back, with Jasper Cillessen set to replace the rested Marc-Andre ter Stegen and make his first La Liga start of the season. Meanwhile, in addition to the shuffles, Valverde should also bring about a change in the formation, with a back-three being restored, as was the case against Huesca.
The three centre-backs ought to be Samuel Umtiti, Jeison Murillo and Thomas Vermaelen, while Jean-Clair Todibo might start as a defensive midfielder, a position where he can use his pace to good effect. Todibo will likely be joined by Carles Alena, who will provide the creative impetus, while Moussa Wague and Semedo should be the two wing-backs.
Upfront, the firepower will come in the form of Dembele, Malcom and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who needs to do much better than he did last time out. Dembele too, will look to prove a point as he continues to improve his sharpness after looking sluggish against Liverpool.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Cillessen; Murillo, Umtiti, Vermaelen; Wague, Todibo, Alena, Semedo; Malcom, Boateng, Dembele
- Barcelona have failed to be victorious on each of their last three trips to Balaidos, with Celta Vigo winning two of the encounters (D1).
- Celta Vigo have won three, drawn three and lost three games since Fran Escriba took charge of the club two months ago.
- Celta Vigo have won each of their last three games at home, the longest they have gone without being beaten this season.
- Ernesto Valverde has not lost any of his 16 games as a head coach against Celta in La Liga (W11 D5).
- Iago Aspas has been directly involved in 10 goals in six games since returning from injury (6 goals, 4 assists).
Player to Watch
In what has been a season to forget for Celta Vigo, Iago Aspas has been one shining light. The 30-year-old has been the biggest reason for the Galician side’s turnaround, having scored six goals and provided four assists since returning from injury.
Now, with Barcelona paying Balaidos a visit on Saturday, it will be up to the experienced striker to lead the line with aplomb once again. The newly crowned La Liga champions will likely field a second string side, which provides Celta Vigo an opportunity to grab a big win. It will largely depend on how Aspas does in the final third, however.
Celta Vigo 2-1 Barcelona
Not too long ago, Barcelona would have been the resounding favourites to win this fixture, despite their underwhelming recent record at Balaidos. But, a lot has changed in the last one month or so. Celta Vigo have been beaten just once in their last seven games, which is a positive run of results when considering the kind of campaign they have endured.
Add to it the fact that Ernesto Valverde will name a weakened side due to his priorities shifting towards the UEFA Champions League, and the hosts might just fancy their chances. Having said that, there are a few players who will look to prove a point on the night, thus setting up an enticing tie.
Celta though, ought to ride on Iago Aspas’ formidable form once again, and with a win imperative to take a step closer to safety, they might just edge this clash. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Fran Escriba & co. to all but confirm their status as a La Liga side next season.