Barcelona will be aiming to consolidate their place atop Group F of the UEFA Champions League when they welcome Slavia Praha to Camp Nou on Tuesday.
The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League season continues this week with Matchday 4 and there are huge stakes involved in the group of death. Group F leaders Barcelona will have no room for error when they play hosts to Slavia Praha at Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
It has been a blow-hot-blow-cold sort of a season for Barcelona, who have struggled to be imposing on their travels. The latest demonstration of their stuttering away form came in the form of a 3-1 loss at Levante this past weekend and there have also been similar signs on show in the Champions League, where they have jostled their way to the top of Group F.
Slavia Praha, on the other hand, have been one of the most impressive teams in the Champions League this season, despite being the most unfancied team after being drawn in the group of death with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund. The Cervenobili remain rooted to the bottom of Group F, but have won many fans with their fearless football.
Such fearless football was evident in the reverse fixture on Matchday 3, which was a close shave for Barcelona, who just about managed a 2-1 win over Slavia Praha in Prague. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde does not have many injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Slavia Praha. The only pressing issue for the Barcelona manager is the unavailability of Luis Suarez due to a calf injury he sustained at Levante this past weekend.
Samuel Umtiti is back in contention after returning from a knee injury but, Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique ought to form the central defensive partnership for Barcelona. Pique, though, will need to be wary of picking up a yellow card as his next booking will force him to miss one game
Jordi Alba has shrugged off a knock and should return to the starting lineup, with Nelson Semedo moving out to the right flank. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will take his customary place in the Barcelona goal.
The big surprise comes in the form of Arthur’s omission from the squad to face Slavia Praha. In the absence of the Brazilian midfielder, Arturo Vidal is expected to start, providing a different dynamic to the Barcelona midfield. Sergio Busquets will play the Anchor Man role in front of defence, with Frenkie de Jong having the bulk of the creative burden on him.
Up ahead, with Suarez missing out, Antoine Griezmann ought to lead the line for Barcelona, with Ousmane Dembele replacing the Uruguayan striker in the side. Lionel Messi is an automatic pick and will start on the right side of the Barcelona attack.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, de Jong; Messi, Griezmann, Dembele
Like his counterpart, Jindrich Trpisovsky has just one major injury concern heading into the game against Barcelona. On Tuesday, the Slavia Praha manager will be bereft of the services of David Hovorka, who is out with a long-term knee injury.
With Hovorka unavailable, Ondrej Kudela will have Michal Frydrych as his partner at the heart of the Slavia Praha defence. Jan Boril, who scored in the reverse fixture two weeks ago, and Vladimir Coufal will be the full-back pairing for the visitors, with Ondrej Kolar lining up between the sticks.
Trpisovsky is likely to shuffle his system once again in order to contain Barcelona in the middle of the park while also putting the vulnerable defence under pressure. Lukas Masopust and Peter Olayinka should, thus, form the strike partnership once again, with the duo drifting wide at times to bring Nicolae Stanciu into more advanced areas.
The three-man midfield unit will hold they key for Slavia Praha. Petr Sevcik is on the suspension tightrope, but will be a big presence in the middle of the park alongside Tomas Soucek. Josef Husbauer will complete the numbers in the midfield trifecta, with the 29-year-old tasked with driving the visitors forward.
Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Kolar; Coufal, Kudela, Frydrych, Boril; Husbauer, Soucek, Sevcik; Stanciu; Masopust, Olayinka
- Barcelona’s only previous European encounter against Slavia Praha was on Matchday 3 of this season’s UEFA Champions League, winning 2-1 at the Sinobo Stadium.
- In all European competitions, this will be Slavia Praha’s seventh away match in Spain. They have won on none of their previous six visits (D4 L2), drawing each of their last three.
- Barcelona have lost just one of their last 55 UEFA Champions League matches at Camp Nou (W46 D8), and their current home unbeaten run of 33 games (W30 D3) is the longest in the competition’s history.
- Slavia Praha are looking for their first UEFA Champions League win on the road. The Czech giants are winless in four away Champions League games previously (D2 L2).
- Lionel Messi has either scored or assisted in each of his last 13 UEFA Champions League group stage starts at Camp Nou (22 goals, 7 assists). The last time he failed to do so was against Celtic in October 2012.
Player to Watch
It has been another season brimming with frustration for Ousmane Dembele. This time, in addition to being beset with an injury in the early days of the campaign, the Frenchman has also ended up losing his regular place in the Barcelona starting eleven following the arrival of compatriot Antoine Griezmann in the summer.
But, Luis Suarez’s injury-enforced absence has opened up an opportunity for Dembele, one that he must make use of to the best of his abilities in order to give Ernesto Valverde something to think about.
In what will be just his third start of the season, Dembele will have no room for slacking off and if he manages to inspire a stuttering Barcelona to a win, things might just start to look promising for him going forward this season.
Barcelona 3-1 Slavia Praha
Barcelona might have just about scraped to a win over Slavia Praha in the reverse fixture. But, at home, they are a different beast altogether. Defence does present a bit of a problem for the hosts, something that the pacy and tricky Slavia Praha could exploit.
But, with Lionel Messi in inspired touch of late, a relatively comfortable evening could be on the cards. A certain Ousmane Dembele will have a lot to prove as well and all signs point towards a Barcelona win. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Ernesto Valverde & co. in a result that puts them on the cusp of reaching the Round of 16.