Following a heart wrenching one all draw at the hands of Cádiz on their return to La Liga Santander, Barcelona are back in action against Jorge Almirón’s Elche.
Date and Kickoff Time: 24th February, 19:00h CAT
Stadium: Camp Nou
Competition: La Liga Santander
Referee: Isidro Diaz de Mera Escuderos
The last time Fútbol Club Barcelona and Elche Club the Fútbol faced off, a Messi-less Ronald Koeman side emerged victorious by two goals to nil, thanks to a goal from a then in-form Frenkie de Jong and a cameo goal from Riqui Puig to seal a comfortable.
Heading into tomorrow evening’s game, both sides find themselves in nearly identical form. Subsequent to their harrowing loss at the hands of PSG in the UEFA Champions League, the Blaugrana gave up a seven game-winning run against Cádiz this weekend. This was a tie that saw the Catalans’ offensive impotence once again come to haunt them, as, in spite of their 23 attempts on goal, only a Lionel Messi spot-kick could bulge the net.
Their defence is nothing worth writing home about either. The Garnet and Blue have conceded a whopping 13 goals in their last six outings, and for a side supposedly challenging for silverware come season’s end, such numbers raise doubts aplenty over their title credentials.
Sitting 18th on the table amidst their fellow relegation candidates in Real Valladolid and Huesca, respectively, the Valencian side are desperately out of form — and have been for quite some time. Despite having been by and large the inferior side, a headed goal by Dani Calvo following a corner got them their first victory in seventeen games.
What to expect from Barcelona?
The match against Cádiz was Barcelona’s golden opportunity to take advantage of Atletico de Madrid’s draw at home to Levante, but once again, when facing a do or die situation, they faltered. Clément Lenglet’s horrid défensive mistake in the final minutes of the tie certainly grabbed the headlines, although more should have been saying about how wasteful the Blaugranas had been in attack.
The Catalans have lost the form they fought so dearly to achieve and certain injury doubts. The injury concerns, particularly in defence, bring about the most worry. Ronald Araújo is still a major doubt for the game, as it remains unsure whether or not he will be available for the clash.
The Garnet and Blue are expected to make several changes to their starting eleven from the forward line to the back four, given they started the same eleven twice in a row.
At right-back, on the back of a remarkable performance at home, Sergiño Dest is most likely to hold down the fort against Elche. In central defence, Oscar Mingueza is a must for the tie, with Gerard Piqué partnering him as the left centre-back. Given the level of the opposition, Junior Firpo might slot in for Jordi Alba given the tight fixture schedule next week, though it would come as no surprise if the Spanish international were to maintain his spot.
In midfield, odds are that Ronald Koeman goes with the trio of Miralem Pjanić, Pedri Gonzales and Riqui Puig. Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong have had their fair share of minutes in recent weeks, and now both might be in need of rest.
In the final third, following Antoine Griezmann’s deplorable showing, Martin Braithwaite should partner Lionel Messi and given Ousmane Dembélé’s lacklustre performance, Francisco Trincão might just take up the spot in the wing.
What to expect from Elche?
Upon promotion to La Liga, expectations were on the lower end for Elche. More often than not, teams achieving promotion via the playoffs are the worst off and tend to see themselves relegated at the first time of asking. Worryingly enough, the Valencians’ story seems to be following much of the same pattern.
Jorge Almirón’s side have a consistent setup, as they often look to set up in one of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1 mid-block. Through their organised defence, they look to open up their rivals by use of long balls to their sole striker upfront, often Lucas Boyé. Taking up a bulk of the work pressing, the 24-year old seeks to force errors out of their opponents, however as seen against Barça, this is a system that is far too easily bypassed.
Their build-up play often commences similarly to that of the Blaugrana’s, however, with some slight differences in execution. Following a goal-kick, one of the centre-backs will often draw near to the goalkeeper to offer himself as a passing outlet. The midfield then spreads to take up the width of the pitch, with a momentary 2-3-2 shaping up to form passing triangles that would then help them advance into the final third. Contrary to their tactics, their execution is often poor, but given how many gaps Barça is leaving of late been the attack and defence, their work might bear fruit.
Los Ilicitanos do not make that many chances, and neither are they efficient once they fall to them. On average, they take around seven shots per game, far from what would ideally be necessary to compensate for their poor defence. They attempt many crosses, particularly down the right where 42% of their attacks are generated, meaning that Barcelona’s left-back will once have to be on their toes.
Los Franjiverdes are one of the division’s more balanced teams when it comes to maintaining possession, as they keep the ball for 49% of the game on average. This might be attributed to the fact that they spend most of the games playing within their own half of the pitch, though this too exposes them to other dangers too, such as individual and very costly mistakes.
Despite having conceded 31 goals in the Primera División, Edgar Badea is one of La Liga’s best shot-stoppers. From 100 shots faced from open play, he has a 72% save rate, the joint fifth highest in the league. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he has the joint second most saves in the league, only behind Valencia’s Jaume Domenech in first.
The Catalans had a glimpse at what he has to offer in goal during the Joan Gamper Cup. Despite winning the game, the former Spanish champions saw him draw a staggering ten saves against them. Given the current state of Barça’s attack, his kind of profile is the last thing they could ask for, but he is just the sort of challenge they will have to get past if they have any chance at overcoming Sevilla this weekend.
Previous results: DLWLW
Barcelona 1-1 Cádiz | La Liga
Barcelona 1-4 PSG | UEFA Champions League
Barcelona 5-1 Deportivo Alavés | La Liga
Sevilla 2-0 Barcelona | Copa Del Rey
Real Betis 2-3 Barcelona | La Liga
Position in La Liga
47 points in 23 games
14 wins, 5 draws and 4 losses
50 Goals Scored, 22 Goals Conceded
+28 Goal Difference
Previous results: WLDLL
Elche 1-0 Eibar | La Liga
Celta Vigo 3-1 Elche | La Liga
Elche 2-2 Villarreal| La Liga
Valencia 1-0 Elche| La Liga
Elche 0-2 Barcelona| La Liga
Position in La Liga
24 points in 23 games
6 win, 6 draws, 11 losses
20 goals scored, 39 goals conceded
-19 goal difference
Head to head record
Elche 0-2 Barcelona | La Liga 2020/21
Barcelona 1-0 Elche | Joan Gamper Trophy 2020
Elche 0-6 Barcelona | La Liga 14/15
Elche 0-4 Barcelona | Copa del Rey 14/15
Barcelona 5-0 Elche | Copa del Rey 14/15
- Barcelona are on a run of 13 games without defeat in La Liga.
- Barcelona have never lost to Elche in La Liga.
- Elche have won just twice in their previous 18 matches.
- Elche have the joint second least wins in La Liga Santander.
Injured: Ronald Araújo (ankle), Ansu Fati (knee), Philippe Coutinho (knee), Sergi Roberto (muscular)
Dest · Piqué · Mingueza · Alba
Pedri · Pjanić · Riqui
Trincão · Messi · Braithwaite
Coach: Ronald Koeman
Injuries: Ivan Marcone
Doubts: Diego Gonzales, Víctor Rodríguez
Barragan · Calvo · Verdu · Gonzalez
Mfulu · Guti
Josán · Morente · Rigoni
Coach: Jorge Almirón
Barcelona have had both their overall and domestic winning runs snapped within the space of a week. They have a chance to trim the gap between themselves and Atlético de Madrid this week, and have no excuses not to do so.
Barca Universal prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Elche
Preview: Barcelona’s strongest XI against Real Madrid
The title race is well and truly wide open. With Atletico Madrid still leaking points and Real Madrid trying to cope up with the tight schedule the Champions League brings with it, Barcelona would hope to be the favourites.
Barcelona travels to Madrid to face a team missing some big names. Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Eden Hazard and Daniel Carvajal all miss out on the decisive clash. Nevertheless, if Los Blancos‘ performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, El Clasico will be a battle to remember. Meanwhile, Barcelona will once again have the services of Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
The result on Saturday will count for so much in the title race. In this creme-de-la-creme of clashes, here is how Barcelona could lineup against Real Madrid.
Marc Andre ter Stegen is always the first name on the list for Ronald Koeman. At the Alfredo de Stefano, the German wall will don the gloves and aim to keep the Madrid attack at bay.
Gerard Pique finds himself back in the Squad, however, it seems unlikely he will be given a start considering lack of match fitness. The three-man defence system has worked wonders for the Catalans, and Koeman will not look to change the system. A trio of Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Clement Lenglet could possibly start on Saturday.
Oscar Mingueza has been rock solid and on a constant rise. With every passing game, the youngster’s confidence grows, and so does the performance. Meanwhile, Clement Lenglet had a tremendous game against Real Valladolid, hardly placing a foot wrong. The Frenchman finally looks to be hitting his stride. Ronald Araujo is fit and ready to start once again and will have to be the leader on the field on the night.
The midfield is where the game will be won or lost for Barcelona. The hosts boast of one of the most fearsome trios in midfield, who reiterated their greatness against Liverpool midweek.
Up against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it will be crucial for Frenkie de Jong to start in midfield. The Dutchman is one of the best in the business in controlling the tempo of the midfield.
The No.21 will be accompanied by Barcelona’s veteran maestro Sergio Busquets. Busquets will account for so much of controlling the midfield. Moreover, his distribution and defensive contributions will be invaluable.
Pedri will complete the midfield alongside the others. The recently internationally capped Spaniard will have to be on the top of his game at the di Stefano. He will be the fulcrum of Barcelona’s creative outlet.
Sergino Dest did face stagnation in performance last month. In the last few games, however, there has been a resurgence. The USMNT fullback has been more lively than ever in attack and has been completing take-one for fun. It will be crucial for him to exploit the right-wing on the night.
Jordi Alba will unsurprisingly continue to start at left wing-back. With Real Madrid being weakened at right-back, Alba will have his chance on a platter to once again come up trumps.
Ousmane Dembele has often been Koeman’s go-to option as a central player in the new formation. Once again, a two-man forward line could see the Frenchman return to duties in the front line.
Lionel Messi had a relatively quiet game against Valladolid, his first one in 2021. However, he will look to step up on the biggest stage in El Clasico, as he always does. The Argentine has been at the peak of his powers this year, and he could inspire the side to another title with a great game tonight.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Antoine Griezmann, who recently welcomed his third child, will be more motivated than ever to return to his peak powers. The Frenchman undoubtedly has a celebration or two in store for the latest member of his family and will hunt for a chance to showcase it on Saturday.
Fransisco Trincao could come on for Ousmane Dembele late in the second half to bring in fresh legs. His intricate dribbling could prove invaluable on the night.
Ilaix Moriba could be utilized to ramp up the pressure in the midfield, while Riqui Puig is bound to get a few minutes as well.