Barça hope to make it 20 victories from the last 21 games when Almeria visit Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Wednesday 8 pm) in Jornada 30 of La Liga 2014/15. A win will guarantee the maintenance of the four-point advantage over closest rivals Real Madrid while the gap could be increased if Madrid fail to win at Rayo Vallecano.
With tough games to follow against Sevilla (a), PSG (a), Valencia (h), PSG (h) and Espanyol (a), it will be no surprise if Luis Enrique uses tomorrow’s game to make rotations. Xavi looks a decent bet to make the line-up while there is a good chance we’ll also see starts for Montoya, Bartra, Pedro and possibly even Sergi Roberto. Sergio Busquets is suspended while Jordi Alba is not quite at 100% yet, but Mascherano will return after missing the 0-1 win at Celta through suspension. There is also a doubt over Alves and Adriano who have been doing recovery work in training rather than preparing with their teammates.
There is the possibility that Sergi Roberto will be chosen for the defensive midfield role that he was given recently at Eibar. This would allow Mascherano to return to defence, possibly to partner Bartra. If Pedro plays then probably Neymar will be rested after his recent run of disappointing form. A possible XI might be formed by Bravo, Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Xavi, Messi, Suárez and Pedro, though it’s a tough game to predict the line-up. There could even be an opportunity for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen if Luis Enrique considers the German needs a game before facing PSG next week.
Almeria are struggling in the relegation zone, four points behind 17th placed Deportivo. Not helped by a recent three-point reduction imposed by FIFA for an irregular signing in 2010, the Andulucians are now desperate for points. A 1-4 defeat to Levante at the weekend led to the sacking of coach Juan Ignacio Martinez and he has been replaced by ex-Barça left-back Sergi Barjuan. Sergi won’t be helped by the absences of the injured Fran Vélez, Michel Macedo and Verza, and the suspended Dubarbier and Mauro dos Santos.
Sergi played over 400 games for Barça between 1993 and 2002, many alongside Luis Enrique, and he became a favourite at Camp Nou for his attacking style. He began his coaching career with Barça’s Juvenil B side in 2009 where he remained for two seasons. Since then he spent two seasons coaching Recreativo de Huelva in the Segunda Divión A where he earned a 100% record against Barça B with four wins out of four meetings. It is fitting that Sergi will make his coaching debut in Primera División at Camp Nou though we most hope he doesn’t repeat the success he had against our B team.
History shows that Barça have won all eight previous games against Almeria at Camp Nou and few would give the visitors any chance of taking anything from tomorrow’s encounter. For Barça there is the danger of taking the game too lightly, especially with the tough coming fixtures. However, unless Sergi is somehow blessed with an anti-Barça jinx, we should expect a comfortable blaugrana victory.
Barça: Bravo; Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu; Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Xavi; Messi, Suárez, Pedro.
Almeria: Julián Cuesta; Ximo Navarro, Antonio Marín, Trujillo, Casado; Wellington, Thomas, Corona, Azeez, Thievy; Hemed.
My bet: Barça 6 Almeria 1 (current odds: 23.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Wednesday 8 April 2015. Kick-off 8 pm.