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Three talking points ahead of Almeria vs Barcelona – La Liga

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Just 72 hours after their 2-0 win over Real Sociedad at Estadi Olimpic de Lluis Companys, Barcelona return to action in La Liga for match day 36.

Taking the trip down to southeast Spain, Xavi’s men will take on Almeria at Estadio del Mediterraneo on Thursday night in what will be a game between one of the league’s best and lowest-placed sides.

Having just jumped back to second place at the weekend, tomorrow’s clash gives Barcelona a golden chance to establish a four-point lead over Girona with just two games to go. 

Given how vital a top-two finish is for the Catalans, a win tomorrow could go a long way.

The last time the two teams faced off, after all, Xavi’s men earned all three points only through a late Sergi Roberto goal to secure a 3-2 win. 

Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Almeria vs Barcelona.

A fearless opposition

The 2023-24 season has been forgettable for Almeria. 35 games into La Liga, Pepe Mel’s side have won just two games and sit on 17 points.

Firmly nestled at the bottom of the league standings, they have guaranteed their relegation and will not play in the first-division next season.

Barcelona, thus, enter tomorrow’s clash at Estadio del Mediterraneo as favourites although the game will be trickier than it appears at first glance.

As the Almeria manager said ahead of tomorrow’s game, his men were in dire need of a motivating objective to push them past their difficult period, and the opportunity to compete against Barcelona and possibly create an upset excites them.

With nothing to lose and a set of players looking to boost their market value ahead of the imminent relegation, Almeria will be seriously motivated to turn their situation around tomorrow.

Going up against a fearless side with the favourites tag, it will not be easy for Xavi and Co. to secure the win. After all, one must remember that Almeria were minutes away from defeating Real Madrid earlier this season and were only undone by poor refereeing.

Key player missing

Five players entered Barcelona’s game against Real Sociedad at the risk of suspension, but only one of the players at risk was booked on the night.

Ilkay Gundogan, having confirmed his absence against Almeria through an accumulation of yellow cards, will thus be unavailable for the Catalans tomorrow night in what is a big blow to Xavi’s plans.

The game and its result may not have massive consequences but the German star has been one of the team’s biggest difference-makers this season and even assisted Lamine Yamal’s opener at the weekend. 

Barcelona player of the season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

His absence, needless to say, will bear conspicuous consequences on the team’s fluidity and buildup through the middle.

Frenkie de Jong’s absence through injury, moreover, leaves Xavi in a tight spot and it is almost certain that Pedri will start if fit. The Canary Islander will be joined by Andreas Christensen as the pivot but the third place in midfield is still open.

Sergi Roberto and Fermin Lopez are the two primary candidates to join the starting lineup to fill the aforementioned void, and who the manager prefers will account for a large part of the team’s style and buildup against Almeria.

Will Araujo return?

Pau Cubarsi and Inigo Martinez started the team’s game against Real Sociedad at the weekend in what came as a surprise tweak from the manager. The experiment, however, was not a clear success.

Barcelona’s defence was largely fragile on the night, especially in the first-half, leading to several chances for the Basque side. It was later revealed that Xavi’s decision was not out of choice but forced owing to a niggle Ronald Araujo was suffering.

The Uruguayan was expected to be fit in time to play tomorrow, but his recovery has not progressed with the speed initially anticipated.

“Araujo is still injured and tomorrow we will decide,” Xavi confirmed in his pre-game press conference, and it is thus uncertain who will feature in defence tomorrow.

Given that Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen are well settled in their new roles, a lot will depend on whether Araujo can make it in time to start tomorrow. 

A Martinez-Cubarsi pairing would not be a disaster, but they understandably lack chemistry and could be more easily exposed by an inspired Almeria attack.

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