Barça begin the second half of La Liga 2014/15 with a return to Elche where just eight days ago a second string team won 0-4 in the Copa del Rey. Luis Enrique will put out a stronger eleven for tomorrow’s league clash but it seems likely he will rest some key men with an eye on Wednesday’s cup second leg at Atlético Madrid. Ivan Rakitic has been left out of the Barça coach’s 18-man list for the game along with Masip, Munir and the injured Mathieu, Douglas and Vermaelen.
The recent run of victories has restored confidence in the team and there is a real feeling that things are beginning to click. Despite the obvious risks implied by Barça’s attacking philosophy there is a solidness to the defence that we haven’t seen since Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal were regulars. Both goalkeepers are performing well which installs confidence in the back four where we have also been boosted by the return to form of Gerard Piqué.
Rakitic has also regained his confidence and is becoming a vital cog in midfield while up front we have both Messi and Neymar looking sharp and sometimes unstoppable for opposition defences. There are some doubts over Luis Suarez who has only scored five goals in sixteen games as he struggles to adapt to the reduced space that he finds in Barça’s system. His touch is sometimes a bit heavy but he works those spaces well and if he can lose his anxiety to score then more goals will come.
The big question for tomorrow’s game is: how many changes will Luis Enrique make? Bravo will return in goal while Montoya, Bartra and Adriano could all come into defence with Piqué probably keeping his place. It will be either Busquets or Mascherano as holding midfielder, Xavi will come in for Rakitic while there may also be a chance for Sergi Roberto in the other midfield slot. You never know but I wouldn’t bet on Messi not starting after the Real Sociedad episode but we could see Pedro and Rafinha given a chance in place of Suarez and Neymar.
The recent cup tie with Elche does not provide a very good reference for how tomorrow’s game will go as Elche never gave the cup much importance. Our opponents are involved in the relegation struggle and survival in the Primera División is much more important for them than the cup. Their focus on the league has born results in the last two weeks with a 1-2 win over Athletic Club at San Mames followed by a 1-0 victory over Levante last week that has moved them out of the drop zone. The man to watch is the Brazilian striker Johnathas de Jesus who has eight league goals and five assists to his name this season.
A warning should be taken from last season’s league match at Elche. The teams met last May, in the penultimate week of the competition, and with the title at stake Barça could only manage a 0-0 draw.
Barça’s squad for the game: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Rafinha, Pedro, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Elche: Tyton; Damian Suarez, Roco, Pelegrin, Cisma; Victor Rodriguez, Adrian, Pasalic, Ñiguez; Fajr; Johnathas.
Barça: Bravo; Montoya, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Sergi Roberto; Rafinha, Messi, Pedro.
Prediction: Elche 0 Barça 3
Date: Saturday 24 January 2014. kick-off 6 pm local time.