Barcelona are back with a midweek La Liga fixture against relegation-threatened Elche this Wednesday at Camp Nou.
Barcelona had their seven-game winning streak halted by Cadiz in a 1-1 draw last weekend. Ronald Koeman claimed the stalemate to be more disappointing than the 4-1 hammering they received at the hands of PSG in the Champions League, as it was an opportunity for the Catalan giants to close the gap on Atletico Madrid after the league leaders lost to Levante at the weekend.
After 23 games, Barcelona are currently fourth in the league, eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid. The Blaugrana have been unbeaten in 13 La Liga games so far and will look to close the gap on the leaders with a win over bottom-placed Elche on Wednesday.
Elche will be travelling to Camp Nou with a lot of confidence after their recent 1-0 victory over fellow relegation contenders Eibar, which ended their run of 16 games without a win in the top flight. A solitary goal from their centre-back Dani Calvo was enough to seal the win for Fran Escriba’s men.
Elche are currently 18th in the league and are level on points with their recent victims Eibar. Although Los Franjiverdes do have 2 games in hand over other relegation-threatened teams, they will have to do exceptionally well to get a point against the Catalan giants.
Barcelona defeated Elche 2-0 in the reverse fixture. Ahead of this game, let us take a look at both teams.
Team News and Tactics
Ronald Koeman will continue to be without long-term absentees in Sergi Roberto, Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati, who are recuperating from their injuries. The Dutchman will also be without Ronald Araujo, who has arguably been the Catalans’ best defender this season, as he will not recover in time for this fixture.
With a big game against Sevilla looming over the weekend, Koeman will be tempted to rest some of his key players, in order to keep them fresh for Saturday’s game against their third-placed rivals.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will feature in goal, with Oscar Mingueza and Junior Firpo expected to replace Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba as the full-backs and play alongside Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet in defence.
In midfield, we could see less tinkering from Koeman as the three-man unit of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri should retain their places from the stalemate against Cadiz. Upfront, Francisco Trincao could be picked over Ousmane Dembele to play alongside Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.
Ever since Koeman switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a more fluid 4-3-3 system, the Catalonian giants have seen a huge transformation in their performance and results, with the current system benefitting players like de Jong, Pedri, Griezmann and Messi and allowing them to play their natural game.
In the 4-3-3 formation, the full-backs will have a more attacking role linking up with the forward players. Busquets playing as a lone pivot provides de Jong and Pedri more freedom to play their creative roles. Messi and Griezmann interchange their roles in attack to draw markers away from their position, thus creating gaps in the opposition defence.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Pique, Lenglet, Firpo; Pedri, Busquets, de Jong; Trincao, Griezmann, Messi
Elche will be without Ivan Marcone, as he will be suspended for picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Eibar and he could be replaced by Omenuke Mfulu. Fran Escriba is also likely to be without Diego Gonzalez, Victor Rodriguez and Fidel, as they miss the midweek game due to injury.
Edgar Badia will be Elche’s custodian, with Antonio Barragan, Gonzalo Verdu, Dani Calvo and Johan Mojica retaining their position in defence from the previous fixture.
✈️ 𝐑𝐮𝗺𝐛𝗼 𝐚 𝐁𝐚𝐫𝐜𝐞𝐥𝗼𝐧𝐚 🟢⚪️ pic.twitter.com/QjKRIet6F9
— Elche Club de Fútbol 🌴 (@elchecf) February 23, 2021
Mfulu will partner Raul Guti in midfield, while Tete Morente and Emiliano Rigoni featuring as the wingers. Upfront Lucas Boye will play alongside Guido Carillo.
Escriba employs a 4-4-2 formation with Barragan and Mojica playing as traditional full-backs, overlapping Morente and Rigoni to provide crosses to attackers Boye and Carrillo. Mfulu will be the destroyer in midfield, with his partner Guti engaging in a more attacking role. Carrillo usually acts as a target man upfront and his link-up with Boye will be crucial to Elche’s attacking play.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Badia; Barragan, Verdu, Calvo, Mojica; Morente, Mfulu, Guti, Rigoni; Boye, Carrillo
- Barcelona and Elche have faced each other five times in the La Liga before this encounter, with the Catalans winning four out of those five matches. (P5 W4 D1)
- Barcelona are currently unbeaten in their last 13 league games. (P13 W10 D3)
- Lionel Messi leads the La Liga goalscoring charts with 16 goals, while no player from Elche makes it to the top ten.
- Elche are without a win in their last eight away league games, incurring losses in five of those games.
- Los Franjiverdes are winless against any of the top 4 clubs in the league this season.
Player to Watch
“Pedri at his age is already brilliant, but in five years he will be better than any PSG midfielder."
— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) February 17, 2021
Barcelona have benefitted from the rise of their youth players this season with the likes of Ronald Araujo and Ansu Fati taking centre stage. However, the best of the lot has to be Pedri. The 18-year-old midfield sensation has been in sublime form for the Blaugrana.
The teenager has shown maturity beyond his years and has proven to be a vital cog in Ronald Koeman’s unit, in a three-man midfield alongside Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets. Flashes of his playmaking brilliance remind us of a certain Andres Iniesta, whom the young playmaker has admired since childhood.
The resemblance between Pedri and Don Iniesta is uncanny, as the former has shown similar qualities in midfield with his exceptional close control in tight spaces, the ability to carry the ball forward with a certain fluidity and to have the vision to pick passes that one can only see while watching the game on the television. Elche will have a torrid time keeping Pedri quiet on the night.
Barcelona 3-0 Elche
Despite a poor showing last weekend against Cadiz and in the Champions League against PSG, Barcelona have enough firepower in their ranks to help them secure an easy victory over low-ranked Elche. The visitors are going to have their work cut out on Wednesday.
Considering the history of this fixture, Los Franjiverdes will have to play out of their skins to derive a positive result against the Blaugrana. The Hard Tackle predicts an easy 3-0 victory for Barcelona with Ronald Koeman’s men taking control of proceedings from the first minute.