Barcelona will be hoping to kickstart the post-Ronald Koeman era on a winning note when they host Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou in La Liga this weekend.

Three months into the new season and Barcelona continue to be in a turbulent state. Having overseen one of the most difficult summer transfer windows in the club’s history, the Catalans have been well below their expected standards on the pitch. And, after a series of up and down displays, inconsistent results and questionable tactics, Ronald Koeman was finally sacked this week.

The shock 1-0 loss away to Rayo Vallecano, in the aftermath of the El Clasico defeat, proved to be the last straw for the Dutchman, who was relieved of his duties on Wednesday night. While club legend Xavi is touted to be his replacement, Sergi Barjuan has been named the interim manager for the time being. And, he will be hoping to get the team back on track when they play Deportivo Alaves on Saturday night.

Barcelona’s defeat to Rayo left them in ninth place in La Liga, with the Blaugrana now nine points shy of leaders Real Sociedad. With their UEFA Champions League campaign also hanging by a thread, a quick turnaround is very much needed at Camp Nou. And, in Deportivo Alaves, the Catalan giants might find the perfect opponent to correct their course.

Alaves are tottering in the lower half of the table and have been able to move away from the drop zone only recently, thanks to their back-to-back wins against Cadiz and Elche. However, despite their recent struggles, a team of Barcelona’s calibre could be a mountain too steep to climb for Javier Calleja & co. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at both teams ahead of this fascinating encounter in La Liga.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Barcelona have been hit with a fresh injury concern as utility man Sergi Roberto has been ruled out with a muscular discomfort he picked up in the midweek loss. In addition to that, Ansu Fati has not recovered from his knee injury and misses out, while Pedri, Martin Braithwaite, Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong also remain unavailable. Ousmane Dembele has returned to training but might not be risked.

Interim manager Sergi Barjuan, who used to coach Barcelona B before this, has called up two youngsters, Abde Ezzalzouli and Alvaro Sanz, to first-team training, with the duo in contention to make the squad for the Alaves clash. It is unlikely that he will deviate from the 4-3-3 formation that the Catalans usually deploy.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will guard the goal for Barcelona and will be offered protection by the centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia against Alaves. With Roberto unavailable, Oscar Mingueza could get the nod as the right-back while there is no looking past Jordi Alba on the left. The veteran Spaniard’s attacking forays will be key for the home team.

Club captain Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield on Saturday while Gavi, who was benched for the midweek clash, should return to the starting XI. Nico Gonzalez was one of the few positives in the loss to Rayo Vallecano and should retain his spot in the side, although we could see Riqui Puig get some minutes at some point in the contest.

Sergino Dest ought to continue on the right flank in the absence of Dembele while Memphis Depay should operate from the opposite wing. The Dutchman needs to step it up a notch after a run of underwhelming displays. Sergio Aguero, who made his first start in midweek, should continue as the No. 9 ahead of Luuk de Jong.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Mingueza, Pique, Garcia, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, Nico; Dest, Aguero, Depay

Alaves

Alaves manager Javier Calleja will have to make do without the services of goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco, who picked up an ankle injury in the win against Elche. Apart from him, striker Miguel De la Fuente, who missed Friday’s training due to a sore throat, is also set to sit out of the trip to Catalonia.

Considering that his team has won two games on the bounce, the manager is unlikely to tinker too much with personnel and formation for the Barcelona clash. In Pacheco’s absence, Antonio Sivera is expected to start under the crossbar for Alaves. He will be shielded by a back four comprising Ximo Navarro, Victor Laguardia, Florian Lejeune and Ruben Duarte.

Mamadou Loum, who scored the winner against Elche earlier in the week, will be in charge of the defensive duties in the middle of the park. He is likely to have support from Toni Moya, who could come in for veteran midfielder Tomas Pina. The duo will be tasked with keeping a check on the influence of Barcelona’s midfielders Gavi and Nico.

Moving forward, Pere Pons is likely to continue in the No. 10 role, although Manu Garcia would be an option for Calleja to consider. Flanking the attacking midfielder should be Manchester United loanee Facundo Pellistri and Luis Rioja, who scored twice in two games against Barcelona last season. Joselu, who has three goals this term, ought to hold on to his spot as the No. 9 for the visiting side.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sivera; Navarro, Laguardia, Lejeune, Duarte; Moya, Loum; Pellistri, Pons, Rioja; Joselu

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have won eight of their last nine games against Alaves in La Liga (D1).
  • Alaves have only one clean sheet in their 16 away fixtures versus Barcelona in La Liga.
  • Barcelona have lost three of their last four La Liga matches (W1), as many defeats as in their previous 34 encounters in the competition (W23 D8 L3).
  • Alaves have won their last two La Liga games, keeping a clean sheet in both.
  • Barcelona have scored 15 goals after their first ten league games this season. This is their lowest tally at this stage of the season since the 2003/04 term under Frank Rijkaard (14 goals).

Player to Watch

Sergio Busquets

With how things are going for Barcelona currently, it is time for their first captain, Sergio Busquets, to step up and lead the team by example. The veteran midfielder has not been at his best of late and had a disappointing outing against Rayo Vallecano in midweek. But for the Catalans to emerge out of this malaise, they will need their experienced midfielder to pave the way.

While Busquets’ ability to reclaim and recycle possession in the middle of the park will undoubtedly be crucial, the 33-year-old will also need to display his leadership skills and tough mentality to help a relatively young team around him. An important game beckons the seasoned campaigner on Saturday night.

Prediction

Barcelona 1-1 Alaves

Barcelona have lost two games in a row now and are in a bit of a muddle. The Catalans’ current situation is unfavourable, and considering that they have had so little time to digest Ronald Koeman’s sacking and the appointment of Sergi Barjuan on an interim basis, things will get difficult for them on Saturday.

As for Alaves, their form is on an upward trend, with two wins in two games. While they were hammered on their last trip to Camp Nou, the Basque outfit held Barcelona to a draw at home last season. And despite the gulf in quality between the two squads, given Barcelona’s current form, Javier Calleja & co. could put up a strong fight and return with a point from Catalonia this weekend.

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