Following last week’s defeat at Real Madrid, Luis Enrique will be hoping for a positive reaction as Barça host Celta tomorrow evening in the tenth round of the 2014/15 Liga (Saturday 8 pm). Leo Messi and Neymar Jr have both recovered from minor injuries and are ready to form the blaugrana attack along with Luis Suarez. Messi is still just one goal short of equalizing Telmo Zarra’s all-time Liga record of 251 goals and he will no doubt be keen to achieve the feat in front of the Camp Nou fans.
The Barça coach will have to make do without Andrés Iniesta who is out for a couple of weeks while Thomas Vermaelen is still not ready for his first appearance. On a positive note Douglas looks closer to a return and the rest of the first team squad is available for selection. Munir continues to train with the first team though with Luis Suarez now available, Sandro has returned to Barça B. There is an important Champions League game at Ajax on Wednesday so there could be a player or two rested tomorrow though Celta could prove to be a complicated opponent so a strong XI is vital.
While there was little to praise in Barça’s showing at the Bernabéu, two players, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets, have come in for particular criticism. My suspicion with Busquets is that he has been playing with niggling injuries and we’ll see his best version soon. Piqué’s problem, on the other hand, seems to be mental; whether it is a drop in confidence or whether he is troubled with personal issues is difficult to say. Luis Enrique may want to employ his psychologist Joaquin Valdés to see if Piqué can overcome these worrying concentration lapses.
If Lucho decides to rest this World Cup winning pair there could be a chance tomorrow for Marc Bartra in defence which would offer Javier Mascherano another opportunity to show his ability in the defensive midfield role. With Iniesta missing, the logical choice in midfield would be to pair Xavi and Rakitic though there could well be a start for Rafinha against the team he represented last season. Guessing the team selection has become increasingly difficult, especially now the match squad is not announced until the morning of the game but for tomorrow I would go with Bravo, Alves, Bartra, Mathieu, Alba, Rakitic, Mascherano, Rafinha, Suarez, Messi and Neymar.
Celta have begun the season strongly and currently sit in sixth place on 16 points. They are unbeaten in four away games and they have already taken points from difficult grounds such as the Vicente Calderón and San Mames. Coach Toto Berizzo has continued with the 4-3-3 system introduced last season at Balaidos by Luis Enrique though he tends to prefer the Argentinian Joaquin Larrivey over the Brazilian Charles as his main striker. Larrivey is in good form having scored twice in Celta’s 3-0 win over Levante last week. Two ex-Barça players Sergi Gomez and Nolito both look in line to start tomorrow while another ex-blaugrana Andreu Fontas returns from injury to be included in Berizzo’s 19-man squad for the game. Another Masia product, Carles Planas is injured along with Oubiña and Augusto Fernández but Fabian Orellano returns to the squad after missing the Levante game through suspension.
There is obvious concern after Barça’s defeat last week, but while Barça remain top of the table the criticism is muted. With only two points separating the top five teams a slip-up tomorrow could see Barça drop from first to fifth in the table, and then you can be sure we’ll hear the word ‘crisis’. Last season Barça won the corresponding fixture 3-0 with two goals from Neymar and the other from Messi but the victory was soured by the injury to Victor Valdés which meant it was the keeper’s last ever game for Barça.
Celta’s 19-man squad: Sergio, Rubén Blanco, Jonny, Hugo Mallo, Costas, Fontás, Sergi Gómez, Cabral, Radoja, Borja Fernández, Madinda, Alex López, Krohn-Dehli, Pablo Hernández, Nolito, Orellana, Santi Mina, Charles, Larrivey.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Bartra, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Mascherano, Rafinha; Suarez, Messi, Neymar.
Celta: Sergio Alvarez; Hugo Malla, Cabral, Sergi Gomez, Jonny; Krohn-Dehli, Radoja, Orellana; Santi Mina, Larrivey, Nolito.
Prediction: Barça 2 Celta 1
Date: Saturday 1 November 2014. Kick-off 8 pm local time.