BARCELONA, Nov 18: Barcelona on Saturday travels to the Estadio Butarque Stadium to take on Leganes in the 12th round of matches in La Liga. Having won 10 matches and drawn one, Barcelona would want to win this match and put extra pressure on its arch-rivals Real Madrid, who will play against Atletico Madrid later the same day.
Barcelona defeated Sevilla on November 5 before a two-week of international break. Luis Suarez still struggled in that match, but the out-of-favor striker Paco Alcacer duly delivered a subsequent performance in that game slapping on the criticisms of everyone who thought he would not be a good Barcelona player. His two goals in either halves provided Barcelona a 2-1 home win against Eduardo Berizzo’s men.
Paco gave a 23rd minute lead to Barcelona after a sloppy defensive mistake from left back Sergio Escudero, but Sevilla equalized in the 59th minute through Guido Pizarro’s header coming from an Ever Banega corner. Barcelona took the lead again in the 65th minute when Ivan Rakitic's superb cross was met by the foot of Alcacer to make the lead 2-1.
The game had Barcelona written all over it as far as the first half performance was concerned, but the story of the second half remained the same as the other Barcelona matches. The opening seven minutes of the match was very creative from Barcelona as they started creating opportunities from the midfield, pressurized Sevilla backline and hit the break as soon as they won the ball. But, the second half was an open game after Banega provided an assist for the Pizzaro goal and equalized.
Sevilla had 86% of pass succession rate and 79.8% in Barca’s half which is 1.4% more than what Barcelona had. Barcelona had more of the success rate in its own half with 93.9% while Sevilla had 90%. Sevilla’s 21 out of 40 long balls were accurate and 12 crosses which is five more than Barcelona.
You don’t often get to see any team passing around with calmness and confident when playing against Barcelona, but the story was not quite the same in that game. Sevilla just had 53 less passes than Barcelona which is itself a staggering record, but a concern for the Catalan side that the creativeness in the second half is just degrading week-in week-out.
So, Barcelona would want to change the stats against Leganes and against Valencia, the trickiest task for them in the league so far when these two teams meet on November 26 after the return Juventus match on the 22nd.
Barcelona’s Argentina defender Javier Mascherano is sidelined for atleast four weeks after suffering a hamstring injury in the international break against Nigeria. The center back joins the casualty list of Rafinha who is out with a meniscus injury, Arda Turan with ankle injury, Andre Gomes with a thigh injury and new signing Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto with hamstring problems.
Jordi Alba might get a rest for this match or atleast be on the bench and make way for Lucas Digne considering two back-to-back matches against Juventus and Valencia. The danger of getting a yellow card for either Samuel Umtiti or Pique or even both had been a wake-up call for Barcelona before the Valencia match. But, with Mascherano injured, boss Ernesto Valverde might give a first league start of the season to injury-prone Thomas Vermaelen.
In the midfield, Valverde will surely feature Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Paulinho and Iniesta, who played 74 minutes against Costa Rica in the intl. break and the first half against Russia. But, Valverde may have one eye in the crucial Champions League match, so we can also expect Denis Suarez to get into the lineup.
Valverde might play Alcacer again after his performance against Sevilla and Suarez in the center as he has rested and trained for the upcoming matches asking Uruguay to play without him in the break. Lionel Messi is an absolute starter for the game.
Meanwhile, Leganes has two players injured in Omar Ramos and Nordin Amrabat who are out with a thigh and a leg injury respectively.
Goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar and defenders Diego Rico, Dimitris Siovas and Ezequiel Munoz might start again having also featured in a 3-0 away loss at Valencia. Right back Tito, who played 14 minutes against Valencia may start this time ahead of Joseba Zaldua.
Midfielder Gerard Gumbau may feature against his former team ahead of Erik Moran. Gabriel, Darko Brasanac and Alexander Szymanowski may feature again with Jose Naranjo replacing Claudio Beauvue.
These two teams have only played two times in the past considering Leganes’s just second season in La Liga. Barcelona has emerged victorious in both the occasion, but had conceded two goals in two matches.
In the 2016-17 La Liga season, Barcelona defeated Leganes 1-5 at the same stadium when these two teams will play, while the corresponding match was a 2-1 home win to Barcelona. Lionel Messi has scored a total of four goals in that two matches including two penalties.
Messi has scored 12 goals already in the league, and we can expect him to add more to his tally. In light of both the win for Barcelona, it might be a surprise if they don’t get a win in the match. Luis Suarez’s form can have recovered as he has had rested for around two weeks.
The ninth-placed Leganes has faced defeat in the last two matches against Sevilla and Valencia, but had drew 0-0 against Atletico, defeated Eibar, Malaga, Athletic Club in the league and Valladolid in the Copa del Rey.
But, there is more to this than meets the eye for Barcelona as a yellow card for Umtiti can get him suspended for the Valencia game. So, Barcelona must be cautious in that regard and just look for a win. The season now starts for Barcelona.