Barcelona will look to build on their incredible victory from the weekend as they get ready to host Leganes at the Camp Nou.
The Spanish league returned to action last week after a three-month hiatus with Real Betis and Sevilla kicking off things in the prestigious El Gran Derbi followed by the Derby del Turia where Valencia and Levante shared the spoils.
League leaders, Barcelona, took the pitch away to Mallorca, and registered a comfortable 4-0 victory with captain Lionel Messi doing what he does best. The Argentine reached 20 goals and 13 assists for the season after netting once and setting up two more on the night. Arturo Vidal, Jordi Alba and Martin Braithwaite were also on target for the Catalans, with the latter scoring his first goal for the club after joining in the winter as part of the ‘Joker Window’.
The Danish striker will face his old team now as Leganes travel to Barcelona on Matchday 29 of the La Liga. Things, however, are not as rosy for the Madrid-based outfit. They lost 2-1 to Real Valladolid after the restart and currently sit second to last in the table with just 23 points, as many as last-placed Espanyol with the joint lowest goals in the league (22).
Barcelona are unbeaten at Camp Nou for well over a year in all competitions, but this fixture will not be as easy as it sounds. A victory will take Leganes out of the relegation zone, provided RCD Mallorca fall to Villareal.
An 80th-minute scrappy winner from super-sub Arturo Vidal saved Barcelona from a draw in the reverse fixture against Leganes, retaining their place on top of the table. Barca have now registered seven wins against them, losing only once, a 2-1 defeat that came last season.
The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at this tale of two ends of the table.
Team News & Tactics
Barcelona were boosted by the return of Luis Suarez who had been sidelined since January due to an ankle injury. The Uruguayan came on for Antoine Griezmann in the 57th minute against Mallorca and played the remainder of the game. He also set up Lionel Messi on the night, taking his assist tally to eight for the season. Suarez was on target for Barcelona when they faced Leganes earlier in the season.
Clement Lenglet, too, returns from suspension and is expected to reclaim his place from Ronald Araujo who put in a tremendous shift against Mallorca. The only exclusion due to injury for Quique Setien at the moment is Ousmane Dembele, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign. Jordi Alba will miss out due to suspension though, for accumulation of cards.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will hold the fort down for the Blaugranas in the six-yard box. He will be guarded by the back-four of Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Lenglet and Junior Firpo. Semedo and Firpo will provide width from the back as attacking full-backs.
Sergio Busquets will screen the defence as the sole defensive midfielder with Frenkie de Jong on the right and Arthur Melo on the left. The Brazilian missed out on the starting lineup on the weekend, but is expected to start against Leganes. Setien also has the likes of Alex Collado and Riqui Puig on the bench, which adds more diversity to the midfield because of their lateral movements and creativity.
Lionel Messi will retain his position on the right-wing, but we might see Antoine Griezmann replaced by Suarez, who is now match-fit. As for Martin Braithwaite, the 29-year old might get two starts on the bounce because of his incredible fitness. Ansu Fati is also an option from the bench if need be for the Garnet and the Blue.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Firpo; de Jong, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Braithwaite
Javier Aguirre goes into this fixture with the one injury problem in the form of Alexander Szymanowski, who is expected to be out for the entirety of the campaign with a knee injury. It is far from a major loss for the club, though.
Oscar Rodriguez and Dimitrios Siovas were both doubtful for the game against Real Valladolid, but were both named on the team sheet with the former starting and scoring a penalty in the 84th minute. This goal took his tally to eight for the season.
We expect Aguirre to make no changes from the game against Valladolid, with Guido Carrillo touted to keep his spot as the lone striker in a 4-4-1-1, with Rodriguez likely to operate in a free role behind him.
Roberto Rosales and Kevin Rodrigues will play as wide midfielders in a four-man midfield, pushing up as wingers while Roque Mesa and Ibrahim Amadou play as the double pivot in the middle of the park. Both the players are likely to be instructed to hold their positions and not rove ahead to supplement the attack.
Unai Bustinza will captain the team from right-back with Jonathan Silva providing width from the left-hand side. Both the full-backs were substituted for wingers as Leganes trailed two goals to none at their own home last time out.
Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo will pair up at the heart of defence, while screening Ivan Cuellar who will be faced with the challenge of keeping out the likes of Suarez, Messi and Griezmann.
Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Cuellar; Bustinza, Awaziem, Omeruo, Silva; Rosales, Amadou, Mesa, Rodrigues; Rodriguez; Carrillo
- Barcelona last lost a game at home in the La Liga in November 2018, against Real Betis in a 4-3 goal thriller. That Real Betis side was managed by none other than Quique Setien.
- Lionel Messi has scored six goals and provided three assists in his last five appearances against Leganes in all competitions.
- Barcelona have managed to keep just one clean sheet against Leganes in La Liga – a 3-0 win in 2017.
- Leganes have won against Barcelona on only one occasion in the Spanish league – a 2-1 victory in 2018.
- Oscar Rodriguez is Leganes’ top scorer in the league with eight goals. Their next top scorer is Martin Braithwaite who had scored six goals for them. At the moment, four players are tied for second place with one.
What? With Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Arthur Melo, Frenkie de Jong to pick from, but we have gone for Martin Braithwaite? Yes, because the Danish forward will be extra motivated when he comes face-to-face with his former employers, to give them a taste of what they are missing right now.
Moreover, Braithwaite has been reported as one of the fittest players in the team, and has stunned the Barcelona staff with the kind of physique he has maintained after returning from the COVID-19 hiatus. Moreover, if his performance from the weekend is anything to go by, the 29-year-old has issued a warning to other forwards in the team with his hard work on and off the pitch.
Braithwaite scored his first goal in Barca colours last time out against Mallorca, and will be prying for more now as he tries to consolidate his position in a star-studded lineup.
Barcelona 4-1 Leganes
Barcelona are all mighty and powerful but for some reason always have an underwhelming performance against Leganes, who manage to find holes in the strongest of Barca lineups. This year, however, Leganes are struggling with the joint-lowest points in the league and are on the verge of relegation.
The visitors have one most leaky defences in the league, and might get hit for a good amount. That said, it is likely that Leganes still manage to find that odd goal against Barca as they so often do, especially with Oscar Rodriguez in the form of his life. In the end, the Catalans should be able to grab another comfortable win and extend their lead at the top.