Barcelona will be looking to maintain the pressure on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid when they take on Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.
FC Barcelona will be under pressure to perform when they welcome Deportivo Alaves on Saturday in La Liga. The Spanish giants had their excellent run of form halted by a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey semi-final in midweek. It was a disappointing result for the Blaugrana, who have shown clear signs of improvement during the second half of the campaign.
On the brighter side of things, Barcelona can potentially bridge the gap to league leaders Atletico Madrid to just five points if they secure a win over Alaves on Saturday. They are currently third in the league table with 43 points on the board. Although Atleti do have two games in hand, their recent draw with Celta Vigo has sparked hope of a late push not just for Barcelona but also for second-placed Real Madrid.
Alaves, dawdling on the wrong side of the league table, are looking to rain on Barcelona’s parade. The Basque outfit had held Barcelona in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, with the two sides drawing 1-1 at Mendizorrotza.
A lot has happened since then, with Alaves experiencing a dreadful 2021 that has drenched them into the relegation dog-fight. They steadied the ship a little with a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid, in what was their first league win this year. They also drew 0-0 against Getafe, meaning Alaves have now secured four points in their last two league matches.
A shock result against Barcelona could further lift their confidence as the visitors brace themselves for a difficult second half of the campaign. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides in their enticing match-up in La Liga this weekend.
Tactics & Team News
Despite the importance of sealing all three points in this encounter, FC Barcelona will need to be cautious with their team selection, with Ronald Koeman having one eye on the upcoming Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
Regardless of the congested fixture list, however, the Dutchman is going to have a difficult time selecting his eleven due to a plethora of injury-related absentees including Gerard Pique, Philippe Coutinho, Sergino Dest, Sergi Roberto, Ansu Fati and Ronald Araujo.
The absence of the cornerstones of the Barcelona defence has forced Koeman to make some unconventional choices in the backline, including the recent emergence of Samuel Umtiti. The Frenchman could continue to play a key role in central defence, this time alongside his fellow countryman Clement Lenglet.
Oscar Mingueza and Junior Firpo should also find themselves on the team sheet this weekend as Koeman deals with the absence of Dest and Roberto while Jordi Alba is likely to be rested ahead of the PSG clash.
Unfortunately, the likes of Pedri and Frenkie de Jong may not earn the same privilege of sitting matches out due to the lack of depth in the midfield unit. As such, they could continue in the three-man midfield alongside Sergio Busquets, looking to add the creative injection in a team that looked stale and out of ideas in the most recent match-up against Sevilla.
In the attacking side of things, Barcelona are likely to continue with the usual offensive trifecta of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele. However, it is essential they find early breakthroughs and get a foothold in the game rather than labour their way into a victory as Koeman is likely to hook off at least two of these attackers around the hour-mark to keep them fresh ahead of the PSG game.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Umtiti, Lenglet, Firpo; Busquets, de Jong; Dembele, Pedri, Griezmann; Messi
Unlike Barcelona, Deportivo Alaves are in a strong shape heading into this encounter, with most of their star players fit to start this weekend. Rodrigo Ely is, in fact, the only major injury-related absentee for coach Abelardo, who is likely to persist with a 4-4-2 that will see two banks of four providing cover for Fernando Pacheco in goal.
The Spaniard should also have the privilege of recalling the now-fit Victor Laguardia into the starting eleven. The experienced centre-back is set to partner Florian Lejeune, Ximo Navarro and Ruben Duarte in a deep-lying Alaves backline that will primarily look to frustrate the Barcelona attackers.
💙 𝙰𝙼𝙸𝙶𝙾𝚂 𝚈 𝙲𝙴𝙽𝚃𝚁𝙰𝙻𝙴𝚂 💙
— Deportivo Alavés (@Alaves) February 11, 2021
While the defence is expected to soak up the pressure exerted by the Catalan giants, the second line of press, including the two midfielders in Tomas Pina and Manu Garcia, is expected to work in a narrow space, looking to hurry and hassle the Barcelona ball-carriers and restrict them of any time and space on the ball.
It should greatly minimise the creative firepower of the home side, forcing them to sacrifice more men forward, where the pace of Edgar Mendez and Luis Rioja could come in handy as they look to feed off the two central strikers in Lucas Perez and Joselu on the counter.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Pacheco; Navarro, Laguardia, Lejeune, Duarte; Mendez, Garcia, Pina, Rioja; Perez, Joselu
- After their win against Real Valladolid in their last game, Alaves ended a six-game winless run in La Liga. They last won two in a row in the competition in November 2019, which indicates the herculean task they face heading into this game.
- At home, Barcelona have won 12 of their 15 La Liga games against Alaves and they have failed to score in just one – a 0-1 defeat in February 2000, the only time they have met in Matchday 23.
- Barcelona have failed to score in just one of their last 56 La Liga games at Camp Nou – a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid in December 2019.
- Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has an excellent record against Deportivo Alaves, having netted eleven goals in just eight appearances while registering two assists.
- Alaves boss Abelardo is yet to win a single game against Barcelona in his managerial career – six losses and one draw in seven outings.
Player to Watch
One player that certainly craves the attention from Barcelona’s perspective, in this game, is Samuel Umtiti. Following a string of decent defensive displays in the backline, the Frenchman’s performances took a nosedive in midweek as he struggled to deal with the pressure of the Sevilla attackers.
It was not a good look for a player who is seemingly becoming more of a pop reference in the club rather than a useful defender. Nevertheless, with Ronald Araujo, Sergi Roberto, Sergino Dest and most importantly, Gerard Pique out injured, Umtiti is likely to get another opportunity to prove himself and the Frenchman will indeed be desperate to perform well against Alaves.
A strong showing this weekend may even boost his chances to feature against Paris-Saint Germain in the Champions League in midweek. So it will be interesting to see how the ex-Lyon centre-back fares against the likes of Perez and Joselu. He will need to be particularly careful of the latter’s aerial prowess.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Deportivo Alaves
Despite the absence of fans inside the stadium, Barcelona have performed rather well at Camp Nou, especially in the offensive department. And their depleted attacking unit is unlikely to influence their dominance in this game as well, especially considering how vulnerable Alaves have appeared following their successful 1-1 draw with the Catalans in the reverse fixture.
However, the makeshift defensive unit may cost Barcelona yet again and this game could be decided on the finest of margins. We are expecting a narrow 2-1 triumph for the home side.