The last international break of the season is over and Barça now enter the final stretch with a possible treble to be won at the finishing line. If progress can be made to the Final of the Champions League in Berlin on June 6 then the team will face a total of sixteen games over the next nine weeks starting tomorrow (Sunday 9 pm) in Jornada 29 of La Liga at Celta de Vigo.
The game will be a return to Balaidos for Luis Enrique. The Barça coach has not had an easy time since taking over at Camp Nou but his methods are now being appreciated with the players looking in excellent physical condition for the final stage of the season. While staying true to Barça’s high pressing and possession based football he has added more tactical variations which makes the team less predictable going forward while there has also been a notable improvement strategically at set-pieces.
Much of this was seen in the win over Real Madrid two weeks ago with Mathieu scoring from Messi’s free-kick and Suárez grabbing the winner after Alves’s long ball. Barça finished physically strongly as Madrid noticeably weakened with Rakitic and Iniesta outrunning Modric and Isco in midfield. That victory puts Barça four points clear at the top of the table with ten games to go but the title race is far from over.
Tomorrow’s game at Celta provides an opportunity to gain revenge for the Galician team’s 0-1 win at Camp Nou back in November. The recent run of eight straight wins away from home suggests Barça should be good enough for all three points but that game at Camp Nou proved the unpredictability of football with Barça losing despite hitting the woodwork four times and dominating throughout.
The good news for Barça is that Messi has trained normally for two days after a week of rumours over the condition of his right foot. Luis Enrique confirmed in today’s press conference that the Argentinian is in condition to play so we should expect him to start. On the negative side, Jordi Alba has been felled by the FIFA virus and will miss the trip to Vigo though the full-back is expected back soon.
Besides Alba, Barça will also be without the suspended Mascherano tomorrow. Busquets should return in midfield to replace Mascherano while there are plenty of options to replace Alba with Adriano and Montoya both available. There is also the possibility of playing Bartra alongside Piqué in defence which would open the possibility of playing Mathieu at left-back. The following game against Almeria at Camp Nou on Wednesday provides a better opportunity to make rotations if needed whereas tomorrow I expect to see our strongest available line-up which for me would be formed by Bravo, Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mathieu, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar.
Celta are sitting comfortably in 11th place in the table with neither a place in Europe nor relegation looking at all likely. The lack of pressure for our opponents could play in our favour if they fail to match our intensity but it seems more likely we will see a nothing-to-lose attitude from players highly motivated for a good result against their ex-coach. Celta’s current coach Eduardo Berrizo has changed little to the attacking 4-3-3 formation installed by Luis Enrique last season at Balaidos so we should expect an open game.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano, Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, Xavi, Rafinha, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Suárez, Neymar.
Celta: Sergio Alvarez; Mallo, Cabral, Fontas, Jonny; Orellana, Augusto Fernández, Krohn-Dehli; Mina, Larrivey, Nolito.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Mathieu; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
My bet: Correct score: Celta 0 Barça 2 (current odds: 9.00). The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Sunday 5 April 2015. Kick-off 9 pm local time.